Hungarian recently acquitted of war crimes dies

AP News
Posted: Sep 03, 2011 7:34 AM
Hungarian recently acquitted of war crimes dies

Sandor Kepiro, a former officer in a Hungarian special security force who was recently acquitted of Holocaust-era war crimes charges, died Saturday. He was 97.

Kepiro died at a hospital in Budapest, his lawyer Zsolt Zetenyi said. He said doctors did not provide a cause of death.

"Doctors said he was suffering from 'general weakening,' and I am convinced the trial contributed significantly to the worsening of his health," Zetenyi told The Associated Press. "His condition was continually deteriorating."

Charges that Kepiro, a former gendarmerie captain, was responsible for the deaths of 36 people in northern Serbia during World War II were dismissed in July by a Budapest court because of insufficient evidence.

Zetenyi had appealed the ruling, saying that it did not go far enough in clearing Kepiro. The prosecution also appealed, calling the acquittal by a panel of three judges "unfounded."

The charges stemmed from Kepiro's participation in a raid by Hungarian forces on the northern Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942 in which more than 1,200 civilians were killed.

Kepiro acknowledged participating in the raids, which were part of a crackdown on partisan activity in the region, but he maintained that his role was only to supervise the identities of those being rounded up and denied knowing about the massacre until later.

Many of those killed, mostly Jews and Serbs, were shot and their bodies dumped into the Danube River.

Kepiro, once at the top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's most-wanted war criminals list, returned to Hungary in May 1996 after living for decades in Argentina. Hungarian authorities reopened Kepiro's case after his whereabouts were uncovered in 2006 by Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter.

"I am innocent and need to be acquitted," Kepiro told the AP in February, after prosecutors announced his indictment. "I am bedridden and can't leave my home. I have nothing."

In 1944, Kepiro was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Hungarian military court for charges stemming from the Novi Sad raids, but the verdict was annulled after the occupation of Hungary by the Nazis later that year. Kepiro said he was a scapegoat in a show trial meant to exonerate his superiors.

Kepiro was born Feb. 18, 1914, and earned a law degree in Hungary in 1937. He went to Austria after World War II and later emigrated to Argentina, where he worked in the textile industry.

Funeral details were pending. Kepiro was divorced and is survived by two children.