Austria's justice minister: "Nazi-era doctor accused of killing children is too ill for trial"

A doctor who worked at a clinic where the Nazis killed thousands of children will not be put on trial because he suffers from severe dementia, Austria's justice minister said in a document released Tuesday.

Dr. Heinrich Gross, who faced charges in the deaths of nine children, is not mentally capable of following court proceedings, Justice Minister Karin Miklautsch said.

Experts found that Gross, 89, had a limited ability "to understand and analyze new information and to participate in complex communication processes with several participants _ such as a court hearing," Miklautsch said.

Miklautsch cited a court's decision in November 2003 that the doctor was unfit to stand trial, and said no further evaluation was needed.

The charges against Gross will remain pending, said Viktor Eggert, head of the Justice Ministry's political and war crimes department.

"The process is only suspended. It will end at some point with the suspect's death," he said.

The minister's statement Tuesday was a response to Green Party parliamentarian Karl Oellinger's request for information on the status of the case.

Oellinger said he found the answer to be an "undignified end" to a "decade-long justice scandal." He said he would ask Miklautsch more questions in an attempt to establish whether more evaluations of Gross' health might be needed.

Gross was a leading doctor in Vienna's infamous Am Spiegelgrund clinic. Historians and survivors of the clinic have accused him of killing or taking part in the clinic's experiments on thousands of children deemed by the Nazis to be physically, mentally or otherwise unfit. The Nazis called such children "unworthy lives."

Gross became a prominent neurologist after the war and was awarded the prestigious Austrian Honorary Cross for Science and Art in 1975. He was stripped of the medal in 2003.

Gross has been put on trial three times, but all the cases were dismissed. In a trial in the 1950s, the case was thrown out because of legal technicalities. A second case in the 1980s was dismissed because the 30-year statute of limitations on manslaughter had expired.

A third trial in 2000, in which Gross was accused of complicity in the murder of nine handicapped children who died as the result of abuse, was suspended after a psychiatrist testified he was unfit for trial because of advanced dementia.

Immediately after the suspension, Gross gave lively interviews in a local coffeehouse.

SUSANNA LOOF Associated Press

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