The Trial of Yosef Z.

One fine morning, Yosef Zohar was arrested on suspicion of killing his father. Five years passed before the court acquitted him − and deemed no murder had taken place.

"Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." Like Franz Kafka's hero Josef K. in "The Trial," one Yosef Z. found himself in a similar situation, only in this case, it was no fiction.

About three months ago, after a legal saga that lasted for about five years, Yosef Zohar, 42, of Rosh Ha'ayin, was acquitted of any wrongdoing in the death of his father. The Tel Aviv District Court harshly criticized the police and said its investigators had planted incriminating versions in the central witness's file. Now Zohar is asking for NIS 1 million in compensation for trial expenses and the days he spent in prison, even before he sues the state for damage and suffering.

Interrogation under pretenses

It turns out that a person can quite easily become a murder suspect. For Zohar it began with a few random comments. On April 12, 2002, his father, diamond dealer Moshe Zohar, who was suffering from muscular degeneration, died. He had been connected to a respirator and was being cared for in his Ramat Hasharon home by Dr. Valentine Tokila, a 33-year-old doctor from Moldova.

About eight months after Zohar's death, on December 18, Tokila, the caregiver, was arrested on suspicion of murdering his divorced wife and an elderly woman for whom she worked. In his interrogation he mentioned his previous employers, and began to chatter freely about the inheritance battles in the Zohar home and the hundreds of millions of dollars in a Swiss bank.

Four days after the arrest, Sarah Zohar, Moshe's second wife, returned from a vacation in Eilat. She also started to become suspicious, but she had her own reasons: In the days before Moshe died, Yosef took over his father's home. He changed the locks, pulled money from Sarah and Moshe's joint bank accounts, and with Tokila's help forbade Sarah from entering the house. He also wrote her out of his father's will.

Yosef says he was fulfilling the instructions of his father, who had discovered that she was taking money from their account. In her testimony Sarah said that she had noticed Yosef and Tokila exchanging "strange looks."

The Moshe Zohar murder file of was opened. On February 23, 2003 the investigators called Yosef and his wife in for questioning at the Jaffa Police traffic department. They were told they were being questioned in connection with a hit-and-run accident on the night of April 12, 2002. They recalled that night very well: It was the night of the father's death.

Yosef stated that until 9 P.M. he was at his father's house, and then he returned home to sleep. At about midnight he was woken by a phone call. Tokila told him to hurry to his father's house, because his father was in very serious condition. He arrived within half an hour, by which time a Magen David Adom team had already declared his father's death.

The couple finished testifying and returned home, without knowing or being warned that they had just been investigated on suspicion of murder.

On February 26, Tokila was arrested on suspicion of murdering Moshe Zohar. That evening, Yosef saw him on television, being brought in for a remand hearing. He was surrounded by traffic police investigators. Yosef suddenly figured out what was going on.

The missing phone call

Tokila underwent a long and exhausting police interrogation. The investigators did not find a call to Yosef in the phone records, and refused to accept his version of events. They warmly recommended that Tokila tell the truth - you already have two life sentences for certain, they told him. Tokila gave in to the pressure and invented a story without a phone call.

But every version he told lacked logic, and the police continued pushing for a consistent story from him. Thus began a melange of versions: Once Yosef had planned the murder and Tokila was not present, once he was standing alongside Yosef and helped him cover his father's face with a blanket, and once he unplugged the respirator for him.

On March 2, 2003, Yosef was arrested. He insisted he was innocent. Did you check the outgoing calls from all the phone lines in the house? he asked his interrogators. Three days later Yosef once again told his interrogators that there were three phone lines in the house, but they automatically replied "True," without realizing that they had checked only two.

The police subjected Zohar and Tokila to endless interrogation tricks. They made each think that the other was incriminating him, made them confront each other, and sent people to try to get them to talk. "Day after day I was subjected to an interrogation that felt like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland,' an upside-down world," he testified in court. "Truth became a lie and a lie became truth."

Don Quixote

On Thursday, March 13, the phone call was discovered. Tokila was rushed to the interrogation room and asked to explain how it was possible. He was forced to invent a new story that included the phone call. The court ruled, "Tokila's interrogation provides a number of enlightening, not to say hallucinatory, explanations for the existence of the phone call, a phone call whose existence he insisted on at the start of his interrogation, but was persuaded did not exist. He adopted this piece of information and is now being asked by the interrogators to confirm its existence once again."

That same day, there was a hearing on extending Yosef's detention. The court was not informed that the phone call had been found. Zohar's defense attorneys, Dror Arad-Ayalon and Sharon Danieli, found out only after the indictment had been filed. The remand remained in place.

On March 23, an indictment was filed against Yosef and Tokila, based on Tokila's testimony. Jailed and lonely in Abu Kabir, Yosef began crafting dolls from plastic silverware for his three daughters. The youngest, who is now five years old, was less than three months old when her father was arrested; for most of her life her father has been suspected of murder. He gave attorney Arad-Ayalon a figure in the shape of Don Quixote, in the hope that his war was not a lost cause.

On May 25, Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Mazza gave another warning that something was fishy: In Yosef's appeal against the detention until the conclusion of proceedings against him, Mazza ruled that Tokila's story "is not clear and arouses questions." He released Zohar to house arrest on bail.

No proof of murder

For five years, the court proceedings revolved around precise minutes and words. Zohar's friends helped him throughout. They prepared a Web site that closely followed the trial. In the end, on November 15, 2007, Yosef was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Tokila was sentenced to two life sentences for the double murder, but he was acquitted 10 days after Yosef in the death of Moshe Zohar. In his decision, Judge Yeshayahu Schneller ruled that he had seen no proof that Moshe Zohar was even murdered. Six judges on two different panels ruled that the police had mishandled the case.

"The picture that arises from Tokila's investigation is one of a harsh and aggressive interrogation where the investigators manipulated Tokila with promises, threats, shouts and enticements to the point that he became putty in their hands, and was willing to confirm any fact that they presented to him as the 'truth,'" ruled Zohar's panel of judges.

Zohar sat in detention for 96 days in Abu Kabir. For 14 months he was under full house arrest and could not work. For 11 months he was under partial house arrest, and for 1,744 days he lived in fear that he would be sentenced to life in prison.

Now his lawyers are claiming that there should not have been an indictment. After the two acquittals, on November 27, 2007, they submitted a request to the justice minister and the attorney general to examine the conduct of the law enforcement agencies. On January 3 the attorney general replied that the request had been sent to the State Prosecutor, who instructed that the issue be checked with the Central District prosecution.

The prosecution responded that it would give its reply to the attorneys and that the compensation request would be discussed in court, as is standard practice. The prosecution said it believed that enough evidence had been gathered to serve an indictment against Zohar, and that Tokila's testimony was deemed submissable.

The police declined to comment for this report.

As Kafka's Josef K. said, what had happened to him was only a single case, and thus was not particularly important. But he felt that it signaled a type of incrimination used against many people, and for their sake, rather than his own, he decided to stand up and make his plea.