Killer of teenager Abu Khdeir convicted of murder; insanity plea rejected

Published April 19th, 2016 - 07:31 GMT
Police escort Yosef Haim Ben-David, one of the Jewish suspects of the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, in the Disctrict Court in Jerusalem. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Police escort Yosef Haim Ben-David, one of the Jewish suspects of the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, in the Disctrict Court in Jerusalem. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Despite an eleventh hour insanity plea in December, the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday convicted Yosef Haim Ben David of being the ringleader in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir on July 2, 2014. Sentencing for Ben David was set for May 3. 

In February, the court sentenced two minors who had already been convicted of the murder - one to life in prison and one to 21 years in prison.

Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Arab from Shuafat in east Jerusalem was abducted, burned and brutally murdered on July 2, 2014 while waiting to enter a mosque.

News coverage of the slaying led to Arab riots throughout east Jerusalem and the rest of the country.

Ben David, the ringleader, and the two additional Jewish minors, burned Abu Khdeir to death as a nationalist revenge murder following the infamous murder of three Jewish teenagers in June 2014.

At the time, then-Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein called the murder a "horrifying act," and praised law enforcement for the swiftness with which they arrested the three defendants.

Throughout a year-long trial, Ben David claimed insanity, but never filed a psychiatric report which could give his plea a chance.

Coming into a December date for hearing the verdict, there was little doubt that Ben David would be convicted by the three judge panel of Jacob Zavan, Rivkah Friedman-Feldman and Rafi Carmel with the insanity plea having nothing legal to stand on.

But right before the verdict, Ben David's lawyer, Asher Ohayon, shocked the courtroom, having quietly (without notice to the public) produced to the court days before an insanity plea psychiatric opinion just in time for the verdict.

Although such conduct is not allowed according to legal procedure, because Ben David was not yet convicted, the court decided it would review the opinion.

The legal fight over the insanity plea has dragged out over several closed door hearings since December, but ultimately was unavailing for Ben David.

Prosecutor Uri Korb, famous for being the prosecutor who took on former prime minister Ehud Olmert, fought the late insanity plea from the start.

Korb's position was that he was in favor of reviewing the issue at any earlier stage, but that once the trial was closed, the court drafted its verdict and it was only days before announcing it, that the court should not even review the opinion.

Ben David never had much to stand on in his defense, since he refused to testify in his own defense, confessed to the crime, was blamed by both minors and did not tend to answer questions from the court in a coherent manner.

Also, the prosecution had produced evidence of Ben David's sanity, including its own psychiatric report.

The indictment included charges against Ben David and one of the minors for attempting to kidnap seven-and-a-half year-old Musa Zalum of Beit Hanina and striking him and his mother, with whom he was walking – while she was pushing another one of her children in a stroller.

Ben David drove the car, while the minor got out to attack the seven-and-a-half-year-old. They wore non-haredi clothes to try to mask their identities during their attempts to kidnap Arabs.

There were separate charges for multiple attempts by the same two to burn Arab cars in Sur Bahir.

In the case of Abu Khdeir, the indictment alleged that Ben David drove the car, while both minors attacked and threw the victim into the car.

Abu Khdeir tried to call his uncle, attempted to escape and even kicked one of the defendants in the face before they overpowered him.

The defendants partially-strangled and struck Abu Khdeir on the head multiple times, as Ben David called out the names of murdered Jews, such as Shalhevet Pas, the Fogel family, Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.

Next, Ben David told the minors to burn his body to erase evidence, and that they doused him with gasoline and started to burn him while he was still alive.

The three defendants had confessed that the murder had been an act of revenge following the murder of the three teenagers in June.

Police found the teenager's badly burned remains at 5:20 a.m., approximately one hour after he was reported kidnapped.

Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi attacked the absence of a process to demolish the house of Ben David at a press conference immediately after the verdict. The Jerusalem Post asked Tibi if a formal request for a demolition had been filed as state prosecution officials have said in the past would need to be done.

He responded, "Has anyone in the past proposed to destroy from a lawyer a Palestinian house. It was an initiative from (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), by the internal security minister and by the authorities, I think that they know this option."

Abu Khdeir's father, Hussein, responded to the decision stating, "We knew from the start he was not crazy, he lied to the court and to us, he planned, he had a store...he tried to kidnap another Palestinian...he was intelligent, we knew he was not crazy."

Describing the loss of his son, he said, "when will I see him? Myself and the family, we are in pain...Our family member is burned, when will we see him, Enough! We are burned."

By Yonah Jeremy Bob

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