Trial of 'Nazi guard' Demjanjuk to run until mid-May: court

3rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The trial of John Demjanjuk, the 90-year-old accused of helping to murder 27,900 Jews during his alleged time as a Nazi death camp guard, will run until mid-May, a Munich court said Thursday.

In late January, the court in this southern German city said it hoped to come to a verdict as early as March 22.

But it did say that defence motions were likely to push this date back.

Demjanjuk, who denies the charges, faces 15 years behind bars if convicted.

The Ukrainian-born former mechanic has been fighting to clear his name for decades.

He was previously found guilty in Israel of being "Ivan the Terrible", a particularly sadistic death camp guard at another Nazi camp, Treblinka, but released after the Israeli Supreme Court established they had the wrong man.

The Munich trial, which opened in November 2009 in a blaze of publicity, has meandered slowly, with several delays due to Demjanjuk's health and defence motions. There have been around 80 sessions since the case opened.

Demjanjuk's trial has focused around two central questions: was he a guard at Sobibor in Nazi-occupied Poland and if so, could he have refused to assist the Nazi death machine?

As no one can identify Demjanjuk, experts have examined an identity card prosecutors say show he was posted to Sobibor but have failed to prove his signature is on the card or that the card is genuine, argues the defence.

The health of the accused has also played a major role in the trial. Demjanjuk's family say he suffers from a litany of illnesses and he appears in court either in a wheelchair or on a stretcher.

Late last month, he threatened to go on hunger strike within the next two weeks and his lawyer Ulrich Busch read out a rare statement from the accused, in which he dismissed the Munich court case as a "political show trial."

© 2011 AFP

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