Demjanjuk convicted over Nazi camp deaths

MUNICH (AP) — Retired U.S. autoworker John Demjanjuk was convicted of thousands of counts of acting as an accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp and sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, a groundbreaking verdict that closed one chapter in a decades-long legal battle.

Judges ordered him released pending appeal, on the ground that he did not pose a flight risk.

Demjanjuk was found guilty of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, one for each person who died during the time he was ruled to have been a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Presiding Judge Ralph Alt said the 91-year-old was a piece of the Nazis’ “machinery of destruction.”

“The court is convinced that the defendant … served as a guard at Sobibor from 27 March 1943 to mid-September 1943,” Alt said, closing a trial that lasted nearly 18 months.

Demjanjuk sat in a wheelchair in front of the judges as they announced their verdict, but showed no reaction. He has denied the charges, but declined the opportunity to make a final statement to the court.

Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., asserted that “the Germans have built a house of cards and it will not stand for long.”

Alt later ordered that Demjanjuk be freed during his appeal — a process that is likely to take six months or more — though it wasn’t clear when exactly he would leave the prison.

Such a release is not unusual in Germany, and Alt said Demjanjuk did not pose a flight risk because of his advanced age, poor health and the fact that the defendant, deported from the U.S. two years ago, is stateless. The costs of Demjanjuk’s two lawyers are being shouldered by German authorities, who routinely pay the legal costs of low-income defendants.

Alt told The Associated Press that meant there were “no grounds” to hold him. “It’s the law, and so it’s justice,” he added. “I say he’s guilty, but it’s not a final verdict.”

Demjanjuk is not allowed to leave Germany. Alt said that the issue of whether or not Demjanjuk died in a German jail had “nothing to do” with the decision.

Defense attorney Guenther Maull said it wasn’t yet clear where Demjanjuk would go once he is freed, but he was likely to live with members of the Ukrainian community in Munich. The court noted that Demjanjuk, who suffers from a variety of ailments, needs daily medical attention.

Charges of accessory to murder carry a maximum term of 15 years in Germany, which does not allow consecutive sentences for multiple counts of the same crime.

There was no evidence that Demjanjuk committed a specific crime. The prosecution was based on the theory that if Demjanjuk was at the camp, he was a participant in the killing — the first time such a legal argument has been made in German courts.

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