Two years after she died during an exorcism, the strange voice of 23-year-old Anneliese Michel has been reverberating through a hushed courtroom - screaming obscenities at the ancient chants of priests.
Many of the spectators who have crowded into the district courtroom have sat transfixed, staring at a raised wooden cross on the wall. At one point, the dead woman's sister fled from the courtroom sobbing.
The bizarre sounds have come from tapes recorded during some 70 visits that two Catholic priests made to the Bavarian home of Anneliese Michel. For eleven months preceding her death July 1, 1976, they tried to drive away the demons that the woman, her parents and the two priests were convinced possessed her.
Now, the two priests and her parents sit together in the defendant's box - as they have since the trial opened March 30 - charged with negligent homicide. A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected today.
But no matter how it is decided, the trial - the first of its kind in modern German history - has already raised troubling questions for the church and church-goers.
The exorcism case has special meaning in Bavaria, the largest and southernmost state in Germany in which 70 percent of the almost 11 million residents are Catholic.
Anneliese Michel, a former student-teacher at nearby Wuertzburg University, was, by all accounts, a deeply religious person raised by deeply religious parents in the small Bavarian town of Klingenberg, where her father operates a sawmill.
As a teen-ager, she had occasional psychiatric care, and later developed a history of epilepsy, for which she was treated.
When, after four years of medical treatment, her condition and mental depression worsened, she and her parents apparently became convinced that demons or the devil had possessed her, and the family turned to the local church for the cure.
The diagnosis that she was possessed was first made by a local parish priest, Father Ernst Alt, 40, who sits in the defendant's box today. Next to him sits 67-year-old Father Arnold Renz, who was appointed by the bishop of Wuertzburg to carry out the 364-year-old formal rites of exorcism - the "Ritual Romanum" - with the help of Alt.
Eleven months before she died, all medical treatment of Anneliese stopped, and the rites of exorcism were carried out secretly in the bedroom of her parent's home during one-hour sessions.
When she died, Anneliese weighed 68 pounds. The autopsy report said that her death was caused by the malnutrition and dehydration that resulted from almost a year of semi-starvation during the rites.
The state prosecutor, after an investigation, said the women's death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all four defendants with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor.
A series of doctors who have testified at the trial have all basically told the court that the woman died of a combination of epilepsy, mental disorders and an extreme religious environment which, in the words of Professor Hans Sattes of Wuertzburg University, added up to "a spiritual sickness and heavy psychic disturbance.
Both priests have told the court they remain convinced that the woman was possessed, and that her death finally freed her. The parents also remain convinced that she was possessed, but not that was freed. In February, the parents ordered their daughter's body exhumed from her grave after they said a nun told them she had a vision that their daughter's body was still intact, and that was proff of the possession.
The exhumation, which authorities said showed normal body decay, was attended by hundreds of curious spectators, and the trial here is also drawing intense interest.
Throughout the trial, Anneliese's father, 60-year-old Josef Michel, has sat impassively, his stocky-frame tilted close to a special amplifier to help him hear. His wife, Anna, 57, takes notes steadily, pausing only to moan, "Oh, dear God," when some doctor alleges that her daughter was possessed of a mental disorder rather than the devil.
Renz, a specialist in exorcism, presents a commanding figure in his priest's robes, his long grey hair swept straight back and no emotion apparent in his face. Alt, who wears dark civilian clothes and has alert, daring eyes, is the one most involved in the proceedings. He seems to let no points go by that conceivably could be challenged.
The priests are being defended by church-paid lawyers. The parents are being defended by one of Germany's top lawyers, Erich Schmidt-Leichner, who has also defended numerous persons in Nazi war-crimes trials.
Schmidt-Leichner has claimed that no only is exorcism legal, but that the German constitution protects citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs.
Nobody is expected to go to jail. The prosecutor yesterday asked that the priests be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished because they have already suffered enough. But the major lingering issues will relate to the church.
A not-guilty verdict could be seen as opening the gate to more exorcism attempts - and possibly unhappy outcomes - in an area where a certain amount of superstition still lives.
But for the most part, experienced observers believe the effect will be the opposite - that merely bringing charges of negligent homicide against priests and parents will provoke changes and more caution.
Bishop Josef Stangl of Wuertzburg has said already that in the future, he will only approve exorcism if the possessed person agrees to the presence of a doctor during the ritual.
Stangl, who approved the Michel exorcism and was in contact a dozen times with the two priests via letters on the case, was investigated by state authorities, but they decided not to indict him or ask him to appear at the trial.
The bishop maintains that his actions were all within church law. There has still been some criticism, however, that the court was trying to protect the church hierarchy.
The case also leads to fundamental questions of belief in the devil and, who, ultimately, is behind the use of such ancient rites.
For example, a 1974 survey by the Freiburg Institute for Border-Line Psychology determined that 63 percent of Catholic theologians in Germany believe in the devil and in his personal existence. A public opinion poll by the Wickery Organization in 1976, however, indicated that 89 percent of more than 2,000 people said "no" when asked if there was a devil, and whether he existed in the form of a being.
Those figures may be slightly higher in Bavaria. "In norhtern Germany," said one spectator here last week somewhat disdainfully, "this never would have happened."
The German press agency in 1976 also surveyed bishops in 22 Catholic districts to find out if exorcism was still practised. Three said yes - Wuertzburg, Augsburg and Passau, all in Bavaria.