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Demjanjuk Lawyer Pleads Against Death Sentence

June 29, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk should not be executed because sufficient doubt exists about his identity, his lawyer told the Supreme Court in a final plea Thursday.

Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk’s Israeli attorney, ended the longest appeal in Israel’s history by asking the panel of five justices to overturn the death sentence because of ″lingering doubt″ about Demjanjuk’s guilt.

Sheftel also asked the Supreme Court not to hand down a decision before Jan. 1 in order to give the defense time to investigate new evidence that might prove Demjanjuk’s innocence.

″There is no case that potentially could contain a mistake more than this case,″ he said .

Sheftel said the justices should find Demjanjuk innocent, a victim of mistaken identity.

The appeal began on May 14 and included 13 days for defense arguments and 12 days for the prosecution.

Chief Justice Meir Shamgar said the justices would consider the request to postpone their decision but did not indicate when they would rule.

Demjanjuk, 70, a retired Cleveland autoworker, was convicted and sentenced to death in April 1988 for crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people. His trial lasted 14 months.

The three-judge trial court agreed with the prosecution that Demjanjuk was ″Ivan the Terrible,″ a Ukrainian gas-chamber operator at the Treblinka death camp in World War II who raped and beat Jews as they were forced into the gas chambers.

More than 850,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942-43.

A Ukrainian native, Demjanjuk claims he is a victim of mistaken identity and says he spent those years in German POW camps as a captured Soviet soldier. Demjanjuk changed his first name from Ivan to John when he became a U.S. citizen in 1958.

Demjanjuk’s 24-year-old son, John Jr., said the defense hopes to question a Treblinka guard who claimed in a 1979 statement to Soviet investigators that the surname of the Treblinka gas-chamber operator was Marchenko.

Demjanjuk’s son said the guard failed to identify Demjanjuk from photographs. He said the defense just learned the guard is still alive and lives in the Soviet Union.

Sheftel argued Thursday that ″Ivan the Terrible is Ivan Marchenko,″ a Ukrainian guard who resembled Demjanjuk.

The claim was supported by two affidavits from a guard who said Marchenko was posted with him at Treblinka and a deposition from a liquor store owner whose wife was a prostitute who slept with Ivan the Terrible, Sheftel said.

The liquor store owner identified Ivan the Terrible from a 1942 photograph that prosecutors allege is of Demjanjuk, but said the man in the photo was named Marchenko.

The name Ivan Marchenko also appears on a partial list of Treblinka guards compiled by Polish prosecutors.

Marchenko is Demjanjuk’s mother’s maiden name, which prosecutors claim Demjanjuk sometimes used as an alias.

Demjanjuk was identified from photo lineups by Treblinka survivors. He was also identified by Otto Horn, a German Nazi who supervised Jews forced to take corpses from the gas chambers and arrange them in a burial pit.

Five Treblinka survivors and Horn testified against Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel from Ohio in February 1986.

Demjanjuk was convicted in Israel under a 1950 law allowing the prosecution of Nazis and Nazi collaborators. It is the sole crime that permits the imposition of the death penalty in civilian courts in Israel.

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