CLEVELAND – A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected a request to restore the U.S. citizenship of a recently deceased Ohio autoworker convicted of Nazi war crimes.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that John Demjanjuk cannot regain his citizenship posthumously. The court ruling said in its ruling that his death made the case moot.
Demjanjuk died March 17 in Germany at age 91. His defense attorneys had asked the appeals court to restore the former suburban Cleveland resident's citizenship, saying the American government withheld potentially helpful material.
The defense team had asked in its filing in April that the court either restore the citizenship or order a hearing on the case.
"Nothing in Demjanjuk's current appeal warrants relief," the appeals court said in a two-page opinion.
The decision upheld a ruling last year by a Cleveland judge who refused to reopen the citizenship case.
Demjanjuk's attorneys said U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland erred in his refusal. The government argued that the defense filing contained no new information in the matter.
The Ukraine-born Demjanjuk lived for decades in Seven Hills in suburban Cleveland before he was convicted by a Munich court last May on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. Demjanjuk, who maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else, died while his conviction was under appeal.
The defense team alleged that Polster violated basic fairness by ruling against Demjanjuk's citizenship appeal without holding a hearing on a 1985 secret FBI report uncovered recently by The Associated Press. The document indicates that the FBI believed a Nazi ID card purportedly showing that Demjanjuk served as a death camp guard was a Soviet-made fake.
Anything that could cast doubt onto the legitimacy of the government's case against a naturalized citizen should be highly relevant, the defense argued.
The government responded to the 1985 document with an affidavit last year from retired FBI agent Thomas Martin. Martin said the report he wrote was based on speculation and not on any investigation. Martin said he based his speculation partly on his understanding that the Soviet secret police had a longstanding program to target dissidents living overseas, "for the purpose of intimidation, threat or actual assassination."
Martin said in the affidavit that he reached no conclusions about the ID card's authenticity.
The appeals court rejected the arguments on Demjanuk's behalf. "Over three decades, we have repeatedly rejected Demjanjuk's challenges to the authenticity of the Trawniki card and fraud on the court," the court said.
Demjanjuk's attorneys said Polster did not see all of the withheld materials, and that it would be unusual for an FBI agent to submit a report to Washington headquarters based only on conjecture.
Carole S. Rendon, first assistant U.S. attorney for northern Ohio, said she hopes the decision puts the case to rest.
"The 6th Circuit confirmed once and for all that the real victims were the tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children who suffered and died at the camps where Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard," she said in an email.
"We are hopeful that this is the last chapter in this decades long pursuit of justice and that the innocent victims of Demjanjuk's horrific crimes will now rest in peace."
One of Demjanjuk's attorneys, Dennis Terez, said the defense was evaluating the opinion. There was no further comment.
There was no immediate comment from Demjanjuk's family. Messages seeking comment were left for his son, John Jr.
Demjanjuk previously was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Israel as the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka extermination camp. The Israeli Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction after Israel received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.
But the supreme court judges also said that they still believed Demjanjuk had served the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor, and declined to order a new trial. They said there was a risk of violating the law prohibiting trying someone twice on the same evidence.
Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.