Ex-SS officer Priebkes trial delayed amid charges that judges are biased

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ROME — The military trial of a former Nazi officer has been suspended, pending an appeals court ruling on whether the three-judge panel hearing the case is biased in favor of the defendant.

Chief Judge Agostino Quistelli announced Monday that the proceedings would resume July 10. If the petition to dismiss the panel is accepted, the trial would start over.

The defendant, former SS Capt. Erich Priebke, 82, is accused of taking part in the 1944 massacre of 335 men and boys, about 75 of whom were Jewish, in the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.

Priebke has admitted to drawing up the list of victims, checking the names off at the caves and personally shooting two people. But he contends that he would have been killed himself if he had not carried out orders.

Prosecutor Antonino Intelisano said a report had been filed with judicial authorities that questioned the impartiality of the panel. Intelisano did not elaborate on the report's contents.

But RAI public television reported that the petition included accusations that one of the judges had said at the start of the trial that the verdict was decided.

Earlier, attorneys of families of the victims protested the judges' decision to cut short the list of their witnesses. The trial, which convened May 8 before a military court, includes a civilian lawsuit by relatives of the victims.

In addition, when Quistelli last week blocked some of the questioning of a key witness, former SS Maj. Karl Hass, attorney Giancarlo Mangia told the judge that his actions "could raise suspicions."

And the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero reported that another judge was overheard discussing his anniversary with Priebke, telling the accused to send greetings to his wife.

Quistelli reportedly expressed disgust at the bias charges, telling Italian newspapers that it was all "an invention."

In another ruling Monday, Quistelli reportedly decided that the court should not hear testimony from the widow of Herbert Kappler, the SS chief in Rome at the time of the massacre.

If convicted, Priebke could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Capital punishment was outlawed in Italy after World War II.