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Indictment Decision Put Off for Several Months

December 7, 1995

ROME (AP) _ A military court delayed a decision today on whether former Nazi officer Erich Priebke should stand trial for his role in the massacre of 335 Italians in German-occupied Rome during World War II.

A lawyer who attended the closed hearing, Massimiliano Fieni, said the judge suspended the proceedings until Italy’s Constitutional Court decides on a request by relatives of the victims who want to attach a civil lawsuit to the criminal case.

It could be at least two months before the Constitutional Court rules.

Priebke said nothing as he emerged from the four-hour hearing, blinking at a barrage of camera flashes. Carrying a raincoat over his arm, he was quickly escorted by paramilitary police into an elevator.

Judge Giuseppe Mazzi has to decide whether to try Priebke for multiple homicide aggravated by cruelty, charges filed under Italy’s war crimes legislation.

Conviction carries a maximum of 21 years, a virtual life sentence for the 82-year-old former SS captain.

Waiting in a crowded corridor were relatives of the victims. One was 73-year-old Carlo Ayroldi, whose brother, Antonio, then 36, was among those killed in Rome’s Ardeatine Caves in March 1944.

``I want the truth, not so much a conviction. What I want is that all the world will talk again about what happened,″ Ayroldi said.

Italian authorities extradited Priebke on Nov. 21 from a resort in the Argentine Andes, where he lived quietly and with the respect of his neighbors for nearly a half-century. He had escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in 1946 and sunk from sight.

Priebke argues he was just obeying his superiors. In interviews and a previous interrogation, he admitted killing one or two victims. Prosecutors say he was responsible for keeping the list of those to be shot and checking off the names as the victims died.

The victims included Jews, Catholic priests and a 14-year-old boy. They were ordered killed in reprisal for the deaths of 33 German soldiers in a bombing by Italian partisans during Germany’s occupation of Rome.

On Wednesday evening, dozens of people gathered downtown to remember the victims. Many were relatives of those shot.