JERUSALEM, JULY 15 -- The legal defense of accused Nazi death camp executioner John Demjanjuk has been thrown into disarray because of a dispute among himself, his family and his lawyers over who should represent him during the latter half of his war crimes trial here.
After an emotionally strained, three-hour hearing this morning, presiding Judge Dov Levin gave Demjanjuk, 67, until Monday to decide whether to fire American attorney Mark O'Connor, his lawyer for the past five years, and replace him with two attorneys who have been part of the defense team here.
O'Connor and the other members of the team, American John Gill and Israeli Yoram Sheftel, have been openly at odds over defense strategy for weeks, with O'Connor often overruling his two colleagues. None have seemed particularly effective in cross-examining prosecution witnesses who have alleged that Demjanjuk was the brutal Ukrainian guard who tortured and killed thousands of Jewish prisoners at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland during World War II. Demjanjuk has denied all charges, saying he is a victim of mistaken identity.
The proceeding is in recess until July 27 when Demjanjuk is expected to open the defense case by testifying on his own behalf. Demjanjuk, who often appeared confused and flustered today, said his lawyers have yet to begin preparing him for his testimony or constructing his defense because they have been sidetracked by the dispute.
At today's hearing, Demjanjuk at first reaffirmed his decision announced over the weekend to fire O'Connor, who has accused Gill and Sheftel of seeking to hijack his client and conspiring behind his back.
But the defendant wavered when Levin repeatedly made clear he would not accept Demjanjuk's two conditions stipulated in a document addressed to the court that he signed last week: that another American lawyer, John Broadley of Washington, be added to the defense team and that the trial be postponed for an indefinite period while the new team reviewed the case. Under Israeli law the three-judge panel must approve Demjanjuk's dismissal of his lawyer.
Levin said Broadley could only enter the case if given a special permit from the Minister of Justice to temporarily practice law in Israel. He said the court had already granted nearly a month-long postponement for preparation of the defense case and would not grant another.
Demjanjuk then asked for a chance to consult with his son-in-law. After a 50-minute recess, the defendant said through an interpreter, "I am in jail. I am cut off. I feel I have to do what my family decides."
Demjanjuk became an American citizen after emigrating to the United State in 1952 and settling in Cleveland. He was stripped of his citizenship and extradited to Israel in February 1986 after a federal court ruled that he had lied about his wartime record on his entry application. He faces the death penalty if convicted.