A public defender was appointed Tuesday to represent the U.S. legal interests of a retired Ohio autoworker on trial in Germany for alleged Nazi war crimes, raising the prospect of renewing the decades-old case in American courts.
U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster issued a brief order approving the federal public defender's request to represent John Demjanjuk, 90.
The judge said the appointment won't affect Demjanjuk's German trial, where a verdict could come as early as Thursday on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a death camp guard. He has pleaded not guilty.
Demjanjuk doesn't have any current legal proceedings under way in the U.S.
However, the judge indicated Demjanjuk could revive his U.S. denaturalization case based on a 1985 FBI report recently uncovered by The Associated Press. The FBI report challenged the authenticity of a Nazi ID card used as evidence in the German trial.
"It is the responsibility of the court to insure the integrity of court proceedings," the judge's order said. "There has already been one confirmed instance of fraud against the court in the first denaturalization trial."
In a 1993 review of the American denaturalization hearing that led to Demjanjuk's extradition to Israel, a U.S. appeals panel concluded that the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit engaged in "prosecutorial misconduct that seriously misled the court" by withholding evidence that might have helped Demjanjuk.
Polster cited federal rules allowing cases to be reopened based on various reasons, including new evidence.
Polster said his order appointing the public defender's office to represent Demjanjuk wasn't a finding or even speculation about the authenticity of the Nazi ID card.
In any case, Polster said, "Should Demjanjuk be found guilty of a criminal offense in Germany, he will need to serve whatever sentence the court in Germany imposes."
Federal prosecutors had opposed the appointment of a public defender, saying there were no current legal proceedings in the U.S. involving Demjanjuk, he hadn't asked for a public defender and he has an attorney who has agreed to defend him for free.
The AP reported in April that the 1985 file indicated the FBI believed a Nazi ID card purportedly showing that Demjanjuk served as a death camp guard was a Soviet-made fake.
His defense attorneys have repeatedly claimed that the card and other evidence against him are Soviet forgeries. The FBI report provides the first known confirmation that American investigators had similar doubts.
In three decades of U.S. hearings, an extradition, a death sentence followed by acquittal in Israel, a deportation and the German trial, the arguments have relied heavily on the photo ID from an SS training camp that indicates Demjanjuk was sent to the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.
The German court rejected a defense request to suspend the trial so that defense attorneys could travel to the U.S. to examine the new material.
Polster said Demjanjuk's German attorneys are aware of the 1985 document.