Hugh Schofield   Globe and Mail   01-Dec-1988   Dov Eitan dies

Suicide delays Demjanjuk's appeal


Special to the Globe and Mail


John Demjanjuk, sentenced to death this year for mass murder at the Treblinka extermination camp, has been granted a six-month delay in his appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court because of the suicide of one of his lawyers.

Chief defense lawyer Yoram Sheftel requested a deferral of the appeal, originally scheduled for next week, because of the massive disruption to the case caused by the death of Dov Eitan, 53, who jumped from a 15th-floor window in downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday.  The appeal will now start in May.

Mystery still surrounds Mr. Eitan's apparent suicide.  There was no note, and friends and relatives said he had not shown any particular signs of depression or stress.  But police believe there is no possibility it was murder.

Mr. Eitan's wife, Miriam, said she "had no idea why he did this."  Asked whether the Demjanjuk appeal might be connected, she added: "It could be, but I just don't know.  I'll tell you this: my husband never wanted to set foot in Germany.  He took on the case because he thought there was an injustice here."

Israeli newspapers gave the death considerable coverage yesterday morning, although none came up with a convincing explanation of why a successful and seemingly happily married lawyer should have wanted to kill himself.

Several papers brought up Mr. Eitan's known left-wing political leanings.  They pointed out that five years ago he resigned as a district court judge in Jerusalem after he signed a petition calling for a withdrawal of the army from Lebanon.

The socialist paper al-Hamishmar, describing him as "an intellectual and a supporter of the reinforcement of justice in Israel," said that in an interview three months ago he had conveyed his deep dejection over the denial of legal rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Mr. Eitan refused to act for Mr. Demjanjuk during his year-long trial, but joined the appeal team about six months ago.  He had been working exclusively on the case, and was due to present about 60 per cent of the material.

His friend and colleague Ronnie Bar-On said: "Just the day before we were in the office and he was in good spirits.  This comes like a bolt out of the blue.  Whatever his motive was, he took this secret to the grave."