ROME (Jul. 9)
A military appeals court has rejected a request to dismiss two of the judges in the war crimes trial of former SS Capt. Erich Priebke, despite accusations that they were biased in his favor.
The ruling Monday cleared the way for the trial’s resumption this week.
Priebke, 82, is on trial for his role in the 1944 massacre of 335 men and boys, some 75 of them Jews, at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.
Priebke has already admitted to drawing up a list of victims, checking it off at the caves and personally shooting two people.
The trial was suspended last month after prosecutors accused Judges Agostino Quistelli and Bruno Rocchi of impartiality and demanded the dismissal of the three-judge panel.
Two military officers testified before the appeals court that they had heard Quistelli say in a conversation he believed that Priebke should be absolved.
The court said the judge could have abstained from the case because of his opinion.
It added, however, that Quistelli should not be removed from the case because he expressed his opinion as a private citizen, before the trial opened and before he examined the charges against Priebke.
Prosecutors also alleged that one of the judges was overheard telling Priebke’s lawyer that he should remind his client to relay wedding anniversary wishes to his wife.
Lawyers for the relatives of those killed in the massacre sought the judges’ dismissal as well.
The appeals court ruled that complaints of the victims’ families concerning the judges’ refusal to hear all their witnesses could serve as the basis of an appeal, but are not grounds for questioning the competence of the judges.
Sebastiano Di Lascio, one of the lawyers for the families, said he believed that by noting that Quistelli could have abstained from the case, the appeals court was inviting the judges to step aside voluntarily.
Both judges welcomed the ruling and said they had no intention of withdrawing from the case.