The most important trial in Greece since the leaders of the 1967-74 dictatorship were condemned to death in 1975 came a step closer to ending yesterday when the three judges retired to deliberate on the evidence against 19 suspected members of the November 17 terrorist gang. The verdicts are expected on Dec. 8. Sentences will be announced later. Many defendants could face life terms. The trial, which began on March 3, lasted 162 days. Yesterday, the last defendants made statements, claiming that guilty verdicts were predetermined. Alexandros Yotopoulos, who is accused of being the mastermind of the group that killed 23 people since its first appearance in late 1975, chose to echo the trial’s most vulgar moment. «Theoretically, the court could make an historical decision. But I have no illusions, no hope, because the court does not have the necessary tobacco pouches,» he said. «Or maybe they’re very full,» chief judge Michalis Margaritis shot back. This cryptic exchange referred to an incident in August, when one of the defendants, Christodoulos Xeros, in a torrent of insults, had told the court that it could have his testicles for a tobacco pouch. Yotopoulos faces nearly 1,000 charges concerning the «moral instigation» of N17’s 27 years of murders, robberies and bomb attacks. He denies any connection with the group but he and his lawyers have argued that N17 was a legitimate political force. Dimitris Koufodinas, who acknowledges being a member of N17 and is believed to have been its chief executioner, maintained that N17 was a political group. «You will judge us guilty with the justice of the victors. This, too, is part of the logic of war. For us, social struggles are for the liberty of man and are neither innocent nor guilty. They are just and necessary,» he said. Judges Margaritis, Nikos Zairis and Vassilis Kourkakis will deliberate at the Athens Appeals Court, far from the Korydallos Prison courtroom where the trial is being held. Seventeen defendants are being held at the prison and two are free. Since March 3, the court heard arguments over some 2,000 charges. A hundred lawyers represented the defendants and the families of victims. Some 700 witnesses testified. There were frequent clashes between defendants and witnesses – and between prosecutor Christos Lambrou and defendants and lawyers. Interest in the trial (which was not broadcast in any form) was minimal, probably because of the lack of revelations. The public had followed the collapse of the gang in July and August of last year, after 27 years of seeming impunity, with great interest.