Grünenthal’s team of 20 defence lawyers was facing three prosecutors. The Thalidomide children and their families were joint plaintiffs at the trial and were represented by seven additional lawyers. One of them was Carl-Hermann Schulte-Hillen, whose wife Linde had a Thalidomide son. Jan-Schulte-Hillen was born in April 1961.
352 witnesses and 26 experts testified at the trial. Among the experts was Professor Widukind Lenz, a key witness for the prosecution. Lenz had approached Grünenthal in November 1961 and asked them to withdraw the drug immediately. He told Dr. Mückter on the phone that he believed that Thalidomide was responsible for the epidemic of malformed babies all over Germany. Lenz’ extensive testimony was heard during the trial. Later however, the Grünenthal lawyers asked the judge to reject Lenz as an expert witness. They felt the professor was not as “unbiased as to the extent necessary”. The judge granted the lawyers’ request.
One of their other defense strategies was to question Thalidomide’s teratogenic (an agent that can disturb the development of an embryo or fetus) potential in general. At the trial they presented the rather absurd argument that Thalidomide was actually a drug that preserved an already deformed fetus. They claimed without Thalidomide the fetus would have died, making it a life preserving drug, rather than a drug that causes malformations and kills unborn babies.
Another interesting twist: In December 1966, Josef Neuberger, who had been Hermann Wirtz’s personal lawyer, became Justice Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, the province where the proceedings took place. Now Neuberger was suddenly in charge of the prosecution that was still in the process of collecting evidence against Grünenthal.