Judges Refuse Defense Request to Disqualify Themselves
Mar. 23, 1987
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Judges at John Demjanjuk's war crimes trial refused a defense request Monday that they disqualify themselves for being hostile.
The judges declared they had shown the defendant and his lawyers ''unusual leniency.''
Presiding Judge Dov Levine also rejected a request by Israeli defense lawyer Yoram Sheftel to recess the trial of the retired Ohio autoworker while the defense took the matter to the Supreme Court.
Demjanjuk, born in the Soviet Ukraine, was extradited by the United States in February 1986 after being stripped of his U.S. citizenship.
He is accused of being a Ukrainian guard called ''Ivan the Terrible'' who beat and mutilated prisoners and switched on the gas that killed them at the Treblinka camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where 850,000 Jews were killed in 1942-43.
The defendant denies ever being at Treblinka and says he is a victim of mistaken identity. His lawyers claim Ivan was killed during an inmate uprising in August 1943.
Sheftel asked the judges to disqualify themselves ''because of hostility to the defense, and the defense after all represents the accused.''
''These contentions are groundless,'' Levine said in his ruling. ''Let us state unequivocally, the court has had no hostility either towards Mr. Sheftel, the defense or the defendant they represent.
''Because of the gravity of the charges hanging over the accused, we have been unusually patient. We have acted with unusual leniency in this case.''
Levine said delaying the trial while the Supreme Court heard the defense request would be ''a miscarriage of justice to the defendant himself, who has already been in detention an extensive amount of time.''
Demjanjuk's two daughters, Lydia Maday, 37, and Irene Nishnic, 27, and his 18-month-old grandson Edward Nishnic arrived Monday. Demjanjuk's son, John Jr., who has been here since the trial began Feb. 16.
''I haven't seen my father for over a year,'' said Mrs. Maday, who lives in Philadelphia. ''I hope my mother will be able to come once she gets the money together.''
In addition to Sheftel, Demjanjuk is represented by American attorneys Mark O'Connor and John Gill, who have cross-examined prosecution witnesses aggressively.
Arguing his request to the judges Monday, Sheftel said they interrupted defense cross-examination 34 times last Thursday and 21 of the interruptions were ''unjustified.''
Many times, he said, the judges overruled questions even though the prosecution did not object.
He was particularly angry over a court decision not to admit into evidence a ruling from a Florida court that he said showed flaws in a statement taken from a Treblinka survivor before he died after the war.
Miriam Radiwker, a police investigator who testified last week on the dead man's behalf, said Eugen Turowski gave positive identifications of Demjanjuk and another accused man, Fedor Fedorenko.
According to the judgment in the 1978 Fedorenko trial, however, Turowski was unable to identify Fedorenko at the trial. Demjanjuk's laywers said this cast doubt on whether Turowski would identify Demjanjuk if he now were alive to testify.
Five survivors called by the prosecution have identified Demjanjuk as Ivan from photographs.
The judges - Levine, Zvi Tal and Dalia Dorner - ruled last week that the defense must bring the Florida judge or another court official to testify in Israel.
Sheftel said the judges were trying to ''handicap the defense'' by ''forcing it to spend $3,000 to $5,000 just to bring a court official to to Israel to repeat what is already in the Florida trial record.''
He also said that the prosecution received permission to question four witnesses in Germany and Belgium where they could not be cross-examined. The witnesses include two officers of the Nazi SS who served at Treblinka.