Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist late Tuesday refused to block the extradition to Yugoslavia of accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovic
Calling it his "last hope," the attorney for Artukovic, who has been held in a federal prison hospital ward since his November, 1984, arrest, had filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court refused earlier in the day to stop the government from removing the 86-year-old Orange County man from the United States.
Two federal appeals court judges earlier Tuesday rejected an emergency stay of extradition requested by Artukovic, who is legally blind, sometimes mentally confused and suffering from a heart condition.
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Harry Pregerson and Alex Kozinski issued an order in Los Angeles, holding that none of the legal arguments in Artukovic's appeal presents a "serious legal question" and saying that he could defend himself at a trial in Yugoslavia.
Shortly after that ruling, Artukovic's attorney, Gary Fleischman, petitioned Rehnquist.
"They could move him immediately," Fleischman said. "There's nothing to stop them. Unless we can get the Supreme Court to stay the extradition, he will be extradited. The Supreme Court is the last hope."
Fleischman noted that ultimately, the decision on whether Artukovic should be extradited rests with the U.S. State Department. However, the lawyer expressed doubt that Secretary of State George P. Shultz would bar the return of Fleischman's client to Yugoslavia.
Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, who helped prosecute Artukovic, agreed that the federal government could move immediately to extradite Artukovic, if no Supreme Court stay prevented it.
In Washington, a State Department press officer said, "We don't have anything on that. There might be something tomorrow."
Neither Fleischman nor Nimmer could be reached for comment on Rehnquist's decision late Tuesday.
Nimmer had greeted Tuesday's appeals court decision as vindication of the government's position in the Artukovic case.
"At present, three courts have passed independently on the sufficiency of the evidence that probable cause exists to send Artukovic back to Yugoslavia to face the crime of murder," the prosecutor said.
Artukovic, who came to the United States on a false passport in 1948 and settled in Seal Beach, has fought extradition for nearly four decades.
He is accused of complicity in the deaths of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies while serving as the interior minister of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia during the 1940s. Yugoslavia has continued to seek his extradition.
The case was reopened by the U.S. Office of Special Investigations, a Nazi-hunting unit of the federal government, about two years ago, and in March, 1985, U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. ordered extradition.
Brown found that there was "substantial probable cause" to believe that Artukovic had been involved in mass murder. He has maintained his innocence.
Artukovic's son, Rad, said Tuesday that his father is "mentally incompetent . . . He sits in a cell (at Terminal Island Federal Prison) talking to the mirror, to the shower. . . . He's never really there at any time," he said.