Image: Josef Scheungraber
Oliver Lang  /  AFP - Getty Images
Josef Scheungraber was sentenced in absentia by an Italian military court to life in prison in 2006. He lived for decades in Ottobrunn, Germany, where he served on the town council and ran a furniture shop.
updated 6/18/2009 12:25:32 PM ET 2009-06-18T16:25:32

A prosecutor recommended life in prison Thursday for a 90-year-old man being tried on allegations he ordered the World War II killings of 14 Italian civilians.

Prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz acknowledged in Munich state court that there are no known living witnesses who heard Josef Scheungraber, then a 25-year-old lieutenant in the German Wehrmacht, give the order to kill the civilians.

But Lutz told the court that Scheungraber, the officer in charge of overseeing the reconstruction of a bridge blown up by partisans, was seen in pictures at the burial of the two German soldiers. Prosecutors allege the civilians were killed as a reprisal for the soldiers' deaths.

Scheungraber is alleged to have ordered his soldiers to shoot three Italian men and one woman and then ordered another 11 civilians to be herded into a barn that was blown up.

'No remaining doubts'
Lutz also said the order to blow up the civilians in a barn — instead of shoot them — had the "signature of an engineer" like Scheungraber.

"I believe there are no remaining doubts" of his guilt, Lutz said.

Scheungraber has denied that he ordered the June 1944 killings in Falzano di Cortona, near the Tuscan town of Arezzo, when he was in command of a company of engineers.

Scheungraber, whose trial opened in September, is charged with 14 counts of murder, and one count of attempted murder in the case of a 15-year-old boy who had managed to escape the barn. He has already been convicted of the same crimes by an Italian military court and sentenced in absentia in 2006 to life in prison, though he has served no time.

Scheungraber maintains he was not in Falzano di Cortona when the killings happened and his attorneys have argued that another unit could have carried out the massacre.

Defense arguments are expected next Wednesday.

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