Europe

Nazi murder trial: Judge drops case against Siert Bruins

Siert Bruins in court on 8 Jan 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Siert Bruins had argued that he had not fired the shots that killed Aldert Klaas Dijkema

A judge in Germany has closed the murder trial of Dutch-born ex-Nazi officer Siert Bruins, ruling he is free to leave court because of uncertainty surrounding the case.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Bruins, 92, for the murder of a Dutch resistance fighter.

Bruins was an SS volunteer and a member of the Nazi intelligence unit at the time of the killing in September 1944.

He was jailed in the 1980s for complicity in two other murders.

He went on trial in the western city of Hagen in September 2013 for the murder of Aldert Klaas Dijkema, aged 36, in Appingedam near the German-Dutch border.

Bruins had argued that while he had been present when the victim was shot in the back, the shots had been fired by his superior in the SS. His defence lawyer had called for his acquittal.

Image copyright Courtesy of Yad Vashem Photo Archive
Image caption Siert Bruins served with the SS in the Dutch town of Delfzijl

Presiding judge Heike Hartmann-Garschagen told the court on Wednesday there were too many gaps in the evidence as no witnesses could be called. "The exact circumstances of the crime can no longer be established," she said.

She acknowledged that written testimony indicated Bruins had taken part in the killing, Dutch media reported.

But clear evidence that he had pulled the trigger was necessary for a murder conviction and there could be no verdict of manslaughter because of the time limit for such cases.

The decision not to deliver a verdict is not thought to amount to an official acquittal but Bruins' lawyer said he was happy with the outcome.

Dortmund public prosecutor Andreas Brendel, who brought the case, is considering whether to appeal against the ruling. "I will analyse it and then reach a decision within one week," he said.

There was an angry reaction from the lawyer representing the Dijkema family.

"This ruling is a slap in the face of the German justice system because it took 70 years to get this far and now we are at a point where the proof is insufficient and the case has to be stopped," Detlef Hartmann told reporters.

'I heard the bang'

The case began after Siert Bruins acknowledged to a German TV crew in 2012 that he had been present at the time of the shooting but blamed a dead colleague, August Neuhaeuser, for the murder.

"I went right and he [Neuhaeuser] went left next to him. Then suddenly I heard the bang and the man fell," he said.

Image copyright Aldert Klaas Dijkema
Image caption Aldert Klaas Dijkema (courtesy of his family)

Aldert Dijkema was shot four times in the back and the head outside a motor factory. Bruins has also denied being aware of plans for his murder.

Bruins was convicted of several murders in absentia by a Dutch court after World War Two but had already fled to Germany. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

He was eventually found by Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal living under a false name in the German village of Altenbreckerfeld in 1978.

The court in Hagen found him guilty of taking part in the murder of two Jewish brothers a few days before the end of the war and he served five years in a German jail.

But it was not until 2010 that the German courts were able to take on cases such as the killing of Aldert Dijkema, which were seen as reprisals.

Such wartime killings were accepted under German law until 2010, when another member of the SS, Heinrich Boere, was jailed for life aged 90 for murdering Dutch civilians. He died in December 2013.

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