(RAVENSBURG, Germany) - A court Tuesday convicted an 83-year-old former Nazi SS commander of the murder of seven Jewish prisoners during World War II and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
Julius Viel, now a retired journalist, sat stony-faced as the presiding judge read out the verdict in Ravensburg district court, saying he acted ``out of lust for murder and base motives'' - and not on orders.
Viel, a second lieutenant in the SS at the time of the crimes, has denied charges that he shot the inmates from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1945. His attorney said that he would appeal, citing contradictory evidence.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Viel, one of Germany's last Nazi war crimes suspects likely to face justice. The court cited the long interval between the crimes and the trial in imposing the lower sentence.
Viel was investigated for the slayings in the 1960s, but the case was closed for lack of evidence. He became a respected journalist in West Germany after the war and was awarded a government medal for his writings on hiking.
But German prosecutors reopened the case after a new statement by Adalbert Lallier, a one-time Nazi officer trainee who says he witnessed the killings. Viel was arrested in October 1999 and went on trial in December.
In seeking an acquittal, Viel's lawyers sought to cast doubt on Lallier's reliability as a witness. But the presiding judge said that Lallier's account was credible.
Lallier, an economics professor in Canada, testified that a group from the SS officers' school watched over the inmates as they dug a tank trap against advancing Soviet forces in Theresienstadt.
Standing guard as the prisoners toiled, Lallier said he saw Viel seize a rifle and shoot the victims in cold blood.
Lallier, who was born in Hungary and now lives in Quebec, first told his story publicly in 1998. He said he had stayed silent for so long out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers, but was persuaded to speak out by another former SS officer.
The SS, short for Schutzstaffel, was the dreaded quasi-military unit of the Nazi party, which was used as a special police force and committed some of the worst crimes in territory under Nazi control during World War II.