German war criminal, 92, 'too frail for jail'

30th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

A former German army officer convicted last year over a 1944 massacre in Italy has received a summons to serve his life sentence but his lawyer says he is too frail, authorities said on Tuesday.

Josef Scheungraber's lawyer "has informed us that his client is unfit to go to prison," Barbara Stockinger, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutors' office in Munich, southern Germany, told AFP.

"We have now commissioned an investigation into his state of health," she said. "It is difficult to say how long this will take."

A court in Munich, southern Germany, sentenced the 92-year-old in August 2009 to life for ordering a massacre of Italian civilians in a Tuscan village in June 1944.

Soldiers gunned down a 74-year-old woman and three men in the street and then shut 11 males aged between 15 and 66 into the ground floor of a farmhouse which the troops then blew up.

The youngest, Gino Massetti, survived and went on to testify in a trial in Italy in 2006 that saw Scheungraber sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. Germany then put him on trial three years later.

His sentence has only now become legally binding, Stockinger said, after an appeal to Germany's highest court failed.

Since the Nuremberg trials after the war, where several top Nazi henchmen were sentenced to death, German authorities have examined more than 25,000 cases but the vast majority never came to court.

But now, with many of the suspected war criminals in or approaching their 90s, there has been a minor flurry of arrests and court cases in Germany dealing with war-time atrocities.

The most high-profile case is that of John Demjanjuk, whose trial began last November on charges of assisting in the murder of 27,900 people while allegedly a guard at the Sobibor death camp. He denies the charges.

© 2010 AFP

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