Prosecutors open investigation into Demjanjuk witness that defense accuses of perjury

By Andrea M. Jarach, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Investigation opened into Demjanjuk witness

MUNICH — Munich prosecutors said Thursday they have opened an investigation into a former U.S. Secret Service forensics expert who testified at the John Demjanjuk trial following a motion from the defense accusing the witness of perjury.

Trial prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz told The Associated Press that his office was obliged to open the investigation against former agent Larry Stewart, who testified in Munich last week, after defense attorney Ulrich Busch filed a complaint with the court accusing him of perjury.

Busch argued Stewart’s Munich testimony contradicted statements he had made in U.S. District Court in Ohio in 2001 — the year after he examined documents being used as evidence against Demjanjuk.

Lutz refused to comment on the possibility of charges being filed, saying the evidence first had to be examined.

Stewart rejected the allegation, telling the AP in a phone call from California that his two testimonies did not contradict one another.

“I was asked different questions this time, so I answered the questions I was asked,” he said.

Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker who turned 90 in April, is standing trial on some 28,060 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he was a guard at the Nazi’s Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. He denies ever being at any camp, claiming he is the victim of mistaken identity.

But the prosecution argues, among other things, that a Nazi-era identity card has Demjanjuk’s picture on it and indicates he was a guard at Sobibor.

Stewart, who analyzed the identity card and 21 other documents being used in the case in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, told the court last week he found staple holes through the photograph but not through the card itself.

He told the Munich state court that indicates the photograph — which is now glued to the document — was once stapled to another piece of paper.

Stewart said, however, that did not necessarily mean it was a forgery, testifying that in his experience photographs often fell off wartime documents as they aged and were then stapled to separate pieces of paper in postwar archives. He said the fact that there was no rust around the staple holes indicated that they were made after the war, when iron staples were no longer used.

But according to the 2001 testimony from Ohio, which Busch provided the court, Stewart said at that time he had not determined that the holes were from a staple, did not know whether there were similar holes in other service passes, and that he had not looked for holes in the identity card itself.

“I was looking at the ink, the paper, and the photograph, and the holes didn’t have anything to do with that in my opinion,” Stewart said, according to a transcript.

But Stewart said in the telephone interview that in preparation for the Munich case he went over his original findings again, and was also able to examine the original ID card again when he was asked about it in court.

“In this case they had the original card, and they had me come up to the judge and they asked me specific questions about the holes,” he said.

Stewart added that he would be happy to return to Munich and answer any additional questions they had.

He testified in Munich over the objections of Demjanjuk’s defense team because he had been charged with perjury in 2004 in the United States when he was an expert witness in an unrelated trial. Busch argued that even though he was acquitted by a jury of those charges, it made his testimony suspect.

Stefan Schuenemann, an attorney for a Sobibor survivor who joined the trial as co-plaintiff as allowed under German law, said that if Busch found Stewart’s testimony contradictory, he should have questioned him about it in court last week.

“He had the chance to ask him directly here about it, and he didn’t,” Schuenemann told AP.

Perjury can carry up to 5 years in prison in Germany, depending upon the severity of the case.

Associated Press Writer David Rising contributed to this story from Berlin.

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