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Defense Lawyers Accuse Each Other of Jeopardizing Case

June 24, 1987

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The Israeli attorney and the American attorney representing Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk accused each other Wednesday of damaging his defense against charges of being a brutal Nazi death-camp guard.

But despite the sharp exchanges, American lawyer Mark O’Connor and his Israeli colleague, Yoram Sheftel, said they would not resign. The third lawyer, American John Gill, declined comment.

Demjanjuk, 67, is charged with being the guard ″Ivan the Terrible,″ who tortured inmates and operated the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. About 800,000 Jews were killed at the camp in 1942 and 1943.

The Ukrainian-born defendant, who was extradited to Israel in 1986, says he is a victim of mistaken identity and was never at Treblinka. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

The trial began Feb. 16, and the prosecution is scheduled to call its last witness Thursday.

Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said O’Connor no longer has sole authority to map defense strategy. The younger Demjanjuk said his father decided two months ago that arguments among the defense lawyers should be settled by majority decision.

″We wanted to have a little more cohesiveness and order,″ the younger Demjanjuk said. Asked whether the quarrels among the attorneys endangered the defense, he said: ″That’s between them.″

O’Connor has conducted most cross-examinations and often angered the judges with long-winded questions.

Sheftel said he disagreed with O’Connor on procedural issues, but not on content.

In Wednesday’s session, O’Connor blamed Sheftel for a mistake in the translation of a document from Hebrew to English. At another point O’Connor apologized for spelling errors in a document, noting it had been prepared by Sheftel’s secretary.

When Sheftel told reporters Wednesday of Demjanjuk’s decision to give all three attorneys equal status, O’Connor accused his Israeli colleague of ″intentionally destroying the defense.″

″He (Sheftel) is an Israeli. He is Jewish. He is under tremendous negative pressure from the Israeli media for representing an alleged mass murderer,″ O’Connor told reporters. ″He has reached a breaking point.″

Sheftel called the public dispute ″an embarrassment,″ adding that ″we tried to keep it out of public view until Mr. O’Connor made it impossible.″

During Wednesday’s session, presiding Judge Dov Levine approved a defense request to question a former administrator at the Treblinka camp, Rudolf Reiss, in Hamburg, West Germany.

Sheftel said he would open defense arguments next week by asking for Demjanjuk’s immediate acquittal. If the court rejects the motion, the defendant will take the stand, Sheftel said.

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