The trial of an 88-year-old man accused of murdering three civilians in wartime Holland as part of a Nazi hit squad was postponed Tuesday until next week on medical grounds.
The decision came on the third day of the trial after defense attorneys for Heinrich Boere argued their client could not hear the proceedings properly.
When questioned by presiding Judge Gerd Nohl, Boere _ sitting in a wheelchair with a monitor on a finger of his right hand measuring his blood pressure and blood oxygen levels _ indicated he had not understood when the charges against him were read in court last week, despite saying then that he had.
"Only, lifelong, lifelong," he muttered slowly, indicating he had only understood he faces a possible life sentence if convicted.
Nohl ruled that the trial be postponed until next week so that Boere could be fitted with hearing aids, prompting an angry reaction from the attorney representing the son of one of Boere's victims.
Detlef Hartmann charged the defense with engaging in "delay tactics," saying that Boere's hearing issues could have been worked out a year ago.
"This could have been taken care of in advance," said Hartmann, whose client Teun de Groot's father was among the victims in 1944. De Groot has joined the trial as a co-plaintiff as allowed under German law.
"Now we've lost another day."
Defense attorney Gordon Christansen rejected that the request for hearing aids was part of any sort of strategy.
"It is the defense's right to check the ability of our client to stand trial at any time," he told reporters after the court session.
The resident of Eschweiler, on the outskirts of Aachen, has been charged with the killings of de Groot's father, a bicycle-shop owner also named Teun, as well as a pharmacist and another civilian, while part of an SS death squad code named "Silbertanne," or "Silver Pine."
Boere admitted the three killings to Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the war. He was sentenced to death in the Netherlands in 1949 _ later commuted to life imprisonment _ but Boere has managed to escape jail so far.
In 1983, a German court refused to extradite him to the Netherlands because he might have German citizenship as well as Dutch; at the time, Germany had no provision to extradite its nationals.
Another German court refused in 2007 to make Boere serve his Dutch sentence in a German prison because he had been absent from his trial and therefore unable to defend himself.
As is usual in Germany, he has entered no plea. His attorneys have declined to say how they would try and counter his confessions to the killings _ both to Dutch authorities and in comments to the media _ but they could argue he was just following orders.
The trial is now scheduled to resume Nov. 17.