MUNICH – John Demjanjuk's lawyer said Friday that he expects his client's appeal against his war crimes conviction to last around two years, and expressed confidence that the 91-year-old won't end up serving prison time.
Defense attorney Ulrich Busch filed an appeal immediately after Demjanjuk was convicted on Thursday on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Nazis' Sobibor death camp. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The trial judge ordered Demjanjuk released pending the appeal — ruling that the retired Ohio autoworker doesn't pose a flight risk in view of his age, his frail health and the fact he is stateless.
The appeals process will likely take about two years, Busch said Friday. He added that Demjanjuk, who has various health problems, "is not fit to be held now and he will be even worse in two years."
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was expected to leave Munich's Stadelheim prison, where he has been held since he was deported from the United States two years ago, on Friday.
Busch said the Ukrainian community in Munich was involved in helping find a place for Demjanjuk to live, but he declined to say where that would be, citing concerns for his client's safety.
Demjanjuk was a Soviet Red Army soldier captured by the Germans in 1942. He is accused of then agreeing to serve as a guard, but Demjanjuk has always maintained he was a victim of the Nazis.
He emigrated to the U.S. after the war, claiming to have spent much of it in a German POW camp. He became a U.S. citizen, but his citizenship was revoked in 1981 because the Justice Department alleged he was the notoriously brutal Nazi death camp guard "Ivan the Terrible."
He was extradited to Israel to stand trial, convicted and sentenced to death but freed when a court there overturned the ruling, saying the evidence showed he was the victim of mistaken identity. He returned to the U.S. and regained his citizenship briefly, then was deported again after German prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009.
Demjanjuk was found guilty Thursday of 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, one for each person who died during the time he was ruled to have been a guard at Sobibor in Nazi-occupied Poland.
One avenue for Demjanjuk to pursue may be a 1985 FBI report uncovered by the AP that challenged the authenticity of a Nazi ID card used as evidence in the German trial.
Still, court experts and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations have said more recently the card — which the defense maintains is a fake produced by the Soviet KGB — is genuine, and the Munich court ruled that it was.
This week, a federal judge in Cleveland appointed a public defender to represent Demjanjuk and indicated the ID card could be used to reopen his citizenship case.
David Leopold, an immigration attorney in Cleveland, said he doubted the FBI report would help Demjanjuk because there was other evidence against him. In either case, Leopold said, "he's not coming back here if he's not a citizen."
The public defender, Dennis Terez, hasn't indicated how he might proceed on the ID card issue. He didn't respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.