Defense Sums Up: Erich Priebke Had ‘marginal’ Role in Massacre

In its closing arguments this week, the defense in the case against Erich Priebke maintained that the former Nazi SS captain had a “marginal” role in Italy’s worst wartime atrocity and should be acquitted.

“Priebke only obeyed an order that he believed to be legitimate,” defense attorney Velio di Rezze said before the Rome military court Tuesday. “An order that came from Hitler and was thus unthinkable to disobey.”

The attorney added that Priebke and other SS officers had understood that they themselves would be killed if they refused to take part in the killings of 335 men and boys, about 75 of them Jews.

Priebke, who turned 83 Monday, is accused of being one of the architects of the March 1944 massacre at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome. The slayings were ordered in reprisal for a partisan attack that killed 33 German soldiers.

The ex-Nazi, who was extradited to Italy from Argentina, has already admitted to shooting two of the victims and crossing off names from a list at the caves.

The prosecution, which is seeking a life sentence, contends that Priebke played a key role in organizing the massacre.

Also Tuesday, a military appeals court rejected a second request to dismiss the judges presiding at the trial.

Relatives of some of the victims in the massacre claimed that the presiding judge, Agostino Quistelli, was biased in favor of Priebke.

The appeals court had already dismissed a similar request made by the prosecution.

A verdict in the trial was expected later in the week.

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