Acquitted of murdering his father, man takes on state, police
It's been seven years since he was indicted with the murder of his father, two years since his acquittal. But this morning Yosef Zohar, along with his wife, Rachel, will stand on the other side of the courtroom, suing the state prosecution and police for NIS 4 million.
According to the lawsuit, to be submitted today to the Tel Aviv District Court, the police and prosecution did not properly inspect the evidence in Zohar's case, ignored strong signals indicating he was framed, lied to the court, and had him living for five years under threat of a life sentence.
He says his wife and he are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and are demanding compensation for seven horrible years.
In a rare move, the lawsuit also personally targets the head of the investigating team, Superintendent Rami Zach.
Zohar's case began with the death of his father, diamond dealer Moshe Zohar, in his Ramat Hasharon home on April 12, 2002. Moshe Zohar had been suffering from acute muscular distrophy, and was being treated at home by a personal physician by the name of Valentine Tokila. His death was pronounced by a Magen David Adom team, and deemed natural.
In December 2002 Tokila was arrested on suspicion of murdering his ex-wife and her elderly patient. During the investigation of the murder, of which Tokila was eventually convicted, Moshe Zohar's last wife, Sarah, approached the police with suspicions about her husband's death.
When questioned again, Tokila told police that Sarah Zohar and Moshe Zohar's children from his first marriage had been waging a fierce inheritance war, even before his death.
When Sarah Zohar went abroad, Tokila said, Yosef Zohar used her absence to stage a takeover. He changed the locks in the house, pulled money out of his step-mother's shared accounts, and removed her from his father's will.
When she returned, Yosef ordered Tokila not to let her into the house, telling him Moshe himself had ordered her ouster, saying Moshe had discovered his wife was emptying his accounts.
Finally, Tokila told police Yosef Zohar owed him $500,000 for the treatment of his father. Zohar himself told police when contacted that it was a misunderstanding; he had mentioned a payment of $500 or $1,000 to Tokila.
Police now had what they thought could be a motive for Tokila to hasten Moshe Zohar's demise.
On February 23, 2003, Yosef and Rachel were invited to the police station. They were told they were being questioned in regard to a hit-and-run accident which occurred on the night of Moshe Zohar's death. Asked to recount the events of that night, the two told identical stories: Yosef stayed with his father until about 9 P.M., when he returned home to catch some sleep. At about midnight he was woken by a phone call from Tokila, who told him to rush back to his father's house because Moshe was deteriorating fast.
By the time he got to the home, the ambulance team had already pronounced Moshe dead.
Both Yosef and Rachel left the police station without having been warned they were interrogated on suspicions of murder. But when they checked phone records, the police could not find a call from Moshe Zohar's house to Yosef Zohar on that night. Tokila was questioned again; he was yelled at, threatened and goaded, until he finally yielded and invented a sequence of event that did not include a phone call. The problem was, however, that afterward he gave several more versions of the events of the night, each new one contradicting the older ones.
Yosef Zohar was arrested on March 2. He insisted he was innocent.
"There are several phone lines at Moshe's home," he told Zach on March 5. "Which numbers did you check?"
"Double-oh seven, James Bond," Zach replied. "We did better: We checked all calls going into your house that night. If someone called you from Honduras we'd know about it. No calls came in that night at all, so it doesn't matter how many lines your father had at his house."
Zach was doubly wrong. Police only checked one of three phone lines connected to the home of Moshe Zohar, and it wasn't the one from which Tokila had called; also, when checking incoming call records at Yosef Zohar's home, they overlooked one single call.
The missing call was discovered by a prosecution lawyer working on the case. Tokila was rushed back to the interrogation room, and asked to explain how the call that he denied had suddenly materialized.
Five years later, in a verdict acquitting Tokila of this murder, the judges would write that the physician provided "illustrative, if not hallucinatory, explanations ... he was interrogated by horrendous shouting to his face at zero distance. This was not an interrogation, this was an assault."
In the meantime, though, Yosef's remand was extended and police and prosecution did not inform him, his lawyers or the court of the discovery of the redeeming call.
On March 23 he was indicted, based on Tokila's testimony. He had spent 96 days in detention, and 16 months under house arrest. The trial went on for 5 years, and in 2007 both Yosef and Tokila were acquitted. In Tokila's verdict, Judge Issaiyho Schneller said there was no proof Moshe Zohar was even murdered.
Other judges wrote Tokila was "softened up" and manipulated by police. Six judges on two panels said the police had failed.
In today's lawsuit, the couple's lawyers are making a similar claim, saying that police not only failed to uncover the phone call that would have confirmed Yosef Zohar's claims, but also failed to stop and investigate why Tokila had changed his versions so frequently.
They also said Zach "concealed evidence of actions he did not want to become known, and blatantly lied in court, all to conceal the truth."
Yosef Zohar claims that since the process he has suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and had become partially handicapped. He also said he has suffered great economic damages, which he estimates at NIS 2 million.
His wife, who has had to oversee his house arrest, also lost her job, and is claiming NIS 600,000 in damages. The couple are suing for another NIS 1 million for the non-financial harm they suffered, saying that even years Zohar's acquittal, they are still affected by rumors and speculation around the case.