BERLIN (AP) — A German court on Wednesday dropped the case against a 92-year-old former member of the Nazi SS accused of killing a Dutch resistance fighter in 1944, ruling that there are too many gaps in the evidence to deliver a verdict.
The Hagen state court said there was enough evidence to convict Dutch-born Siert Bruins, now a German citizen, of manslaughter, court spokesman Jan Schulte said. However, that charge falls under Germany's statute of limitations.
The witnesses needed to possibly prove the charge of murder — for which there is no statute of limitations— are now all dead so the court decided it had no option but to drop the case, Schulte said. Prosecutors can appeal the court's decision but were not immediately available for comment on whether they would.
Bruins was accused of killing resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema in September 1944 in Appingedam, near the German border in the northern Netherlands. In his closing arguments on Monday, his lawyer told the court that Bruins didn't know of the plans to kill Dijkema and that his SS comrade, who has since died, had pulled the trigger.
Bruins has long been on the radar of German legal authorities and already served time in the 1980s for his role in the wartime slaying of two Dutch Jews. Bruins was also already sentenced to death in absentia in connection with the Dijkema killing and other crimes in the Netherlands in 1949, later commuted to life in prison, but attempts to extradite him were unsuccessful because he had obtained German citizenship through a policy instituted by Adolf Hitler to confer citizenship on foreigners who served in the military of Nazi Germany.
Dortmund prosecutors eventually reopened the case against him and filed charges in 2012. Born in 1921 in the Netherlands, Bruins volunteered for the Waffen SS in 1941 after the Nazis had overrun his homeland.
He fought on the eastern front in Russia until 1943, when he became ill. After he transferred back, he ended up with a unit looking for resistance fighters and Jews. Prosecutors alleged that Bruins and accomplice August Neuhaeuser drove Dijkema to an isolated area and told him to "go take a leak."
As Dijkema walked away from the car, they fired at least four shots, killing him instantly, according to the indictment. They then reported he was shot while trying to escape.