Buffalo News | Feb. 24, 2002 | Tom Buckham

Lawyer criticizes revoking Demjanjuk's citizenship

News Staff Reporter

A Buffalo lawyer who once defended John Demjanjuk against charges he was the infamous Nazi prison guard "Ivan the Terrible" says a federal judge in Cleveland erred when he revoked Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship Thursday. Mark O'Connor predicted the decision will be overturned.

Judge Paul Matia said government attorneys presented enough evidence at a trial eight months ago to prove - without eyewitness corroboration - that the former autoworker was a guard at Nazi death and forced-labor camps during World War II. Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian who went by the name Ivan in his homeland, has insisted he was a prisoner of war.

Matia's ruling flies in the face of the case's long record, said O'Connor, who represented Demjanjuk from 1982 to 1987 while he was on trial in Israel, where witnesses identified him as "Ivan the Terrible" at Treblinka, in Poland, in 1942-43.

Demjanjuk, 81, was found guilty in 1988, after O'Connor was removed from the case in a strategy dispute, but the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1993 - rejecting the testimony of the death camp survivors and finding that the sadistic guard was actually another man, Ivan Marchenko.

Matia's decision "is an enormous slap in the face for Israeli justice," O'Connor said. "The high court in Israel accepted my defense - mistaken identity."

Demjanjuk, O'Connor said, was framed by the U.S. Justice Department and the KGB, the former Soviet intelligence agency. He predicted Matia's decision will be overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which once before "admonished the same people for committing fraud with the same evidence."

The appellate judges "will educate the district judge on the history of the case," he said.

O'Connor called the 27-year pursuit of Demjanjuk "political" and chastised the government for using civil law to harass him.

"If he did these things - if he committed war crimes - put him on trial criminally," O'Connor said. "Expose him."