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Former German officer convicted of WWII killings

A 90-year-old former German army officer was convicted of murder today over the killings of Italian civilians during World War II, and sentenced to life in prison.

The Munich state court convicted Josef Scheungraber on 10 counts of murder and also found him guilty of attempted murder.

Scheungraber was a 25-year-old Wehrmacht lieutenant at the time of the June 1944 killings in Falzano di Cortona, near the Tuscan town of Arezzo. The killings came after partisans killed two German soldiers.

Prosecutors alleged that after partisans killed two German soldiers, Scheungraber commanded his soldiers to shoot three Italian men and one woman. They said he then ordered that another 11 civilians be herded into a barn that was blown up. He was charged with 14 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

Scheungraber, who was in command of a company of engineers, maintains he was not in Falzano di Cortona when the killings happened, but was in charge of overseeing reconstruction of a nearby bridge.

His defense team called for an acquittal in their closing arguments in July, saying that there was no evidence of Scheungraber's personal guilt.

Prosecutors acknowledged that there are no known living witnesses who heard Scheungraber give the order to kill the civilians. But they said he was seen in pictures at the burial of the two German soldiers for whose deaths the reprisals were carried out.

Also, a former employee testified at the end of July that he remembered Scheungraber saying to him once in the 1970s that he couldn't visit Italy because of what had happened during the war, which had to do with "shooting a dozen men and blowing them into the air."

The witness, whose name was only given as Eugen S., testified he did not remember Scheungraber saying he had given the order, though he said the defendant told the story "as if it were his decision."

Perhaps the most dramatic testimony in the trial came in October from the sole survivor of the massacre, Gino Massetti, who was 15 when he was rounded up by German troops and herded into the barn before it was blown up.

"I heard a scream, and that was it then," he said. "They were all dead."

Massetti told the court that just before the barn was blown up, he saw a man he assumed was an officer drive up on a motorcycle and give what appeared to be an order to the others. But, he testified, he could not describe the officer at all and didn't understand what he had said because it was in German.

He said that it was only down to luck that he survived - he was partially shielded from the blast after a heavy beam and a man fell on top of him. The other man also survived the explosion initially, but later succumbed to his wounds, Massetti told the court.


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