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Public Prosecutor v. Karl Hass and Erich Priebke

This case summary is being revised and will be updated soon

Court Supreme Court of Cassation / Corte Suprema di Cassazione, Italy
Decision title Sentenza sul ricorso
Decision date 16 November 1998
  • Karl Hass
  • Erich Priebke
  • Public Prosecutor
Categories War crimes
Keywords murder, Ardeatine caves, Fosse Ardeatine Massacre, statute of limitations, war crimes, World War II
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Procedural history

On 1 August 1996, the Military Court of Rome decided not to begin legal proceedings against Priebke because prosecution was barred by a statute of limitations. The Court therefore ordered the release of the accused.

On 15 October 1996, the Italian Corte di Cassazione nullified the decision of the Military Court of Rome due to an incorrect interpretation of the law. Consequently, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. 

On 22 July 2007, in the new proceedings before the Military Court of Rome, Priebke was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and Hass to 10 years and 8 months. Subsequently, on 7 March 1998, the defendants were both sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity by the Appeal Chamber of the Military Court of Rome.

See also: 

Ordinanza per l'udienza preliminare (Tribunale Militare di Roma), 7 December 1995; Sentenza (Corte Costituzionale), 22 February 1996; Sentenza (Corte Suprema di Cassazione), 18 September 1997; Sentenza (Corte Suprema di Cassazione), 16 February 1998

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Related developments

Sentenza (Corte Suprema di Cassazione), 7 December 1999.

Karl Hass died on 23 April 2004 and Erich Priebke died on 11 October 2013, both while under house arrest.

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Legally relevant facts

On 24 March 1944, 335 Italians were killed in a mass execution, known as the 'Fosse Ardeatine Massacre'. The attack was carried out by Nazi occupation troops in reprisal for a partisan attack conducted on the previous day in Rome in which 33 German soldiers were killed. 

Although the reprisal was ordered by Hitler, the massacre was arranged and perpetrated by Herbert Kappler, Chief of Policy in Rome, who had defined the method of execution. In accordance with Hitler’s orders, Kappler ordered soldiers to execute 10 Italians for each German killed. The victims were civilians (including Jews from the local community), Italian prisoners of war, previously captured partisans and some detainees from Roman prisons. The massacre was perpetrated inside the tunnels of the disused caves near the Via Ardeatina. 

Captain Erich Priebke and Major Karl Hass both played a key role in the massacre leading the condemned to the place of execution and overseeing their shooting. After World War II, Priebke escaped from Europe and took refuge in Argentina until 21 November 1995, when he was extradited to Italy. Priebke was charged with murder (“Concorso in violenza con omicidio continuato in danno di cittadini italiani”) for the events at the Fosse Ardeatine.

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Court's holding and analysis

On appeal to the Italian Corte di Cassazione, the decision of the Appeal Chamber of the Military Court of Rome was upheld on 16 November 1998.

Because of their age, both Priebke and Hass were put under house arrest.

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Related cases

Herbert Kappler