PHILADELPHIA – An 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect has died, his lawyer said Wednesday, a day after a judge issued an order granting a request for him to be extradited to Germany to face trial.
Johann Breyer died Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital, attorney Dennis Boyle said. The revelation came on the same day U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice issued an order granting a request for Breyer to be extradited to Germany to face trial. The request was still subject to U.S. government approval.
The U.S. attorney's office said it didn't have any information yet on Breyer's status.
Rice had found probable cause that "Breyer, the individual before this court, is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany."
"No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder," he wrote.
Breyer, a retired tool-and-die maker, was being held without bail on allegations stemming from his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II.
U.S. marshals arrested him in June outside his home in northeast Philadelphia. He was facing charges of aiding in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children at a Nazi death camp.
Breyer claimed he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz and then that he did not participate in it, but "the German allegations belie his claims," the judge wrote.
"Given Breyer's role as an elite S.S. armed guard at a camp designed and operated almost exclusively as a killing center for Jews, Germany has established probable cause of Breyer's complicity in the mass murders at Auschwitz."
German authorities in the Bavarian town of Weiden issued a warrant for Breyer's arrest in June 2013. The warrant accuses Breyer of 158 counts of accessory to murder -- one count for each trainload of victims brought to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland from May to October 1944, when Breyer was allegedly a guard there.
Breyer told The Associated Press in a 2012 interview that while he was a guard at Auschwitz, he was assigned to a part of the camp that was not involved in the slaughter of Jews and others.
"I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody -- and I don't even have a traffic ticket here," he told the AP. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Breyer moved to Philadelphia after World War II and for decades has lived a quiet, middle-class life. He has American citizenship because his mother was born in the U.S.; she later moved to Europe, where Breyer was born.
In 1992, the U.S. government tried to revoke Breyer's citizenship after discovering his wartime background. The effort became a years-long legal saga and appeared to end with a 2003 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Breyer had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participation in it.
Then he was arrested last month outside his home in northeast Philadelphia based on the 2013 German warrant. Officials say the arrest was delayed for a year because of the complexity of the extradition request.
His lawyers unsuccessfully argued that Breyer should be released on bail pending the extradition hearing because of his frail health. They said he has mild dementia, heart conditions and has suffered strokes in recent years.
A judge ruled that the federal prison system was capable of caring for Breyer.