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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.”
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.”
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.”
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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