Kyiv Post | 10May2011 | Associated Press

Demjanjuk attorney disputes trial's legitimacy (updated)

MUNICH (AP) -- John Demjanjuk's attorney argued Tuesday that the German trial against his client on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder at a Nazi death camp lacks a legal basis because the Sobibor camp lies in neighboring Poland.

Ulrich Busch said on his fourth day of closing arguments that the 91-year-old defendant, accused of being a guard at the death camp, should therefore not be tried in Germany. Polish authorities have already dropped an investigation of Demjanjuk for lack of evidence, he said.

"I call for the immediate release of my client who has been detained for two years on an illegal and unconstitutional basis," Busch told the Munich state court.

The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was a young Soviet army soldier when he was captured in Crimea in 1942 by the Nazis during World War II.

Prosecutors say after that he agreed to serve as a guard and trained at the SS Trawniki camp in Poland before being sent to Sobibor.

But Demjanjuk says he was held prisoner for most of the rest of the war and never served as a guard in any camp.

His attorney asked the court not to consider testimony gathered by the Soviet Union's investigators because it is likely to be biased.

In addition, Busch claimed that documents and witness accounts from Trawniki on Demjanjuk differed so widely that there must have been about six different Demjanjuks -- opening up the possibility that he could be a victim of mistaken identity.

But a lawyer for families of Sobibor victims who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as permitted under German law, said there was no doubt on Demjanjuk's identity.

"Of course there are always contradictions in testimonies, but documents don't lie," Martin Mendelsohn said outside the court room.

However, Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., noted that prosecutors in the U.S. had been reprimanded for withholding evidence in the past in the case and said an Associated Press report from last month demonstrated that the defense still does not have all the files.

The report brought to light a 1985 FBI file that indicated the agency believed the Trawniki ID card alleged to have belonged to Demjanjuk was a Soviet-made fake.

"Documents can be reliable or unreliable, but they cannot be considered if concealed by prosecutors who champion a cause rather than justice," Demjanjuk Jr. said in an email.

The defense will continue its closing arguments Wednesday, and a verdict may come as early as Thursday.

Demjanjuk's trial opened in November 2009, months after the retired Ohio autoworker was deported from the United States.