Demjanjuk trial on hold due to illness

Demjanjuk trial on hold

Demjanjuk big head 248.88 (photo credit: )
Demjanjuk big head 248.88
(photo credit: )
The trial of John Demjanjuk on charges of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews as a death camp guard was called off for the day Wednesday after a doctor determined he was too ill to come to court. Presiding Judge Ralph Alt said the doctor had examined Demjanjuk, 89, in a prison hospital two hours before the session was due to begin, and determined that he had a fever caused by an unidentified infection. The fever continued to rise despite medication, and the doctor decided it was not safe to transport him to court, Alt said. "This chamber has determined not to proceed because it is not that the defendant does not want to come, but that he cannot come," Alt said. The day was to have featured more testimony, which began Tuesday, from some of the approximately 40 relatives of victims who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under the German legal system. Michael Koch, an attorney for about 30 of them, said his clients were "slightly frustrated" by the decision, but had always understood it was a possibility and would tell their stories another day. "All in all, there were two good days," he said in reference to the first two days of the trial on Monday and Tuesday. When asked about reports in Germany's largest circulating daily, the tabloid Bild, that Demjanjuk was feigning his illness to avoid the trial, Barbara Stockinger, a spokeswoman for the Munich public prosecutor, told The Jerusalem Post that "only Demjanjuk knows if he is play-acting." The Bild reported in its Wednesday edition that Demjanjuk was "flirting with a female doctor during a court pause," and complained about his defective wheelchair. According to Bild, he consumed two large plates of pasta. A number of German news organizations have speculated that Demjanjuk and his defense attorney Ulrich Busch are portraying Demjanjuk as feeble to elicit public sympathy and delay the trial process. Demjanjuk was deported in May from the United States to Munich, and has been in custody since then. He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted for his alleged activities during training as a guard in the SS camp Trawniki, then during his service in the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. The prosecution argues that after Demjanjuk, a Soviet Red Army soldier, was captured by the Germans in 1942 he volunteered to serve under the SS as a guard. Demjanjuk denies ever having served as a guard, saying that he spent most of the rest of the war in Nazi POW camps before joining the so-called Vlasov Army of anti-communist Soviet POWs and others. That army was formed to fight with the Germans against the encroaching Soviets in the final months of the war. Demjanjuk appeared feeble during the first two days of his trial, lying on a gurney covered in a blanket with his eyes closed during the proceedings - though opening his eyes and talking with his attorneys and others during breaks. Sobibor survivor Thomas Blatt, who does not remember Demjanjuk himself at the camp but is to testify in January in general about his experiences, said he had expected trial sessions to be canceled. "It's tiring to lie down a whole day in front of so many people, so I guess he wanted a break," Blatt said cynically. Busch filed a motion Wednesday to have the case thrown out, arguing that Polish investigators in 2007, working from the same evidence, had determined there was not enough proof to proceed to trial. Busch said he had argued in the motion that European Union rules prohibited the German investigation from going forward without any new evidence if prosecutors elsewhere in the bloc had decided to drop it. Alt told The Associated Press he did not know when the court would rule on the motion, but suggested it could make a decision before the trial is scheduled to resume December 21.