JERUSALEM (Oct. 1)
Contradicting a ruling by the High Court of Justice, the Israeli justice minister has ordered a review of a 9-year-old murder case in which five Arabs were sentenced to life for the murder of a Jewish boy.
In an unprecedented and controversial move, Justice Minister David Libai instructed the deputy attorney general to re-examine evidence which convicted the five for the slaying of Danny Katz, 13, in the winter of 1983.
The boy’s body was found near his home in the Danya neighborhood of Haifa. He had been sexually abused.
Libai, instructing government lawyer Yehudit Karp to again look at the case, said he did not dispute the ruling in the second trial handed down by the High Court. But he “could not close his eyes to repeated claims that innocent people sit in jail.”
According to a news report Sunday, the High Court was unaware when handing down its ruling that the General Security Service, or Shin Bet, had investigated the case and believed it unlikely that the five had committed the crime.
Shin Bet investigators, in a report requested at the time by police, found there was no basis to the police claim that the five submitted the victim’s garments to a terrorist organization as part of an “entrance requirement” for membership, the daily Ha’aretz said.
Three days after the murder, police arrested five Arab employees in a supermarket located in the boy’s neighborhood. The suspects claimed in court their interrogation was accompanied by force and threats. They eventually confessed and were sentenced to life.
A number of public figures insist the five are innocent and that the murderer is still at large.
Apparent contradictions in the prosecution’s case have been cited by former senior police officer Ezra Goldberg, Ha’aretz columnist Tom Segev and Avigdor Feldman, a respected attorney. They include the reported claim by a coroner that he was asked to produce findings that would help incriminate the accused.
The defendants appealed to the High Court and lost. But Feldman, in a move without precedent, asked High Court President Meir Shamgar for a second trial.
Shamgar turned down the request, thereby virtually shutting off further legal options, before Libai announced his order for a review.
The justice minister said that new evidence would impel him either to recommend a pardon or to ask the court for a second rial.
Goldberg has stated he is convinced the five are innocent, and that they were victims of a conspiracy by “police interrogators who exploited their uniforms to commit evil.”
Libai’s decision has triggered sharp reaction from the victim’s family, from jurists and from the political opposition.
Mira Katz, mother of the murdered child, said the justice minister was seeking “political gain from the blood of Jewish children.”
Former Judge Shaul Aloni, a member of the bench that convicted the five, said Libai had created a situation in which a government official decided on whether the president of the High Court had erred in a ruling.
On the parliamentary front, Likud Knesset member Tzahi Hanegbi said the decision had caused “unprecedented damage” to Israel’s supreme court and suggested it might have been prompted by pressures exerted by Arab parties which support the government coalition. Another Likud member of Knesset, David Mena, said hundreds of criminals will now demand a review of their cases.