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The Tel Aviv District Court set a record yesterday when it handed down the longest sentence ever imposed on a minor convicted of manslaughter in Israel.

The court gave the 17-year-old the maximum sentence, 20 years, for stabbing Tzachi Ya'akov to death in a Bat Yam shopping mall last February because he was angry at Ya'akov for pointing out a dropped NIS 100 bank note and suggesting that it might belong to one of the boy's friends.

A riot broke out at the courtroom when the judges announced the 20-year sentence: The youth's family threw a bottle and engaged in fistfights with the courtroom guards. The judges were unable to complete the reading of the verdict and fled to their chambers.

The rioting continued outside the courtroom, with the teen's relatives attacking press photographers and television cameramen until police and the court guards finally quelled the disturbances.

Ya'akov, 29, was attacked as he was leaving the Bat Yam mall with his girlfriend at about 10 P.M. on February 12, 2005. According to his brother, Itzik, "as they were leaving the store, Tzachi noticed an NIS 100 note on a bench and asked a boy nearby, 'Is this your money? I think you dropped it.' The boy answered him, 'What's it to you?' Tzachi said, 'Why are you fighting with me? I'm just saying you dropped some money. Be careful.'"

Fatal wound

The argument attracted the attention of the defendant, who was a friend of the boy with whom Ya'akov was arguing, and he intervened - first by threatening Ya'akov, and then by stabbing him in the chest. Ya'akov died of his wounds 11 days later.

The defendant committed the crime while he was supposed to be under house arrest awaiting trial on two other charges: stabbing one person for refusing to give him a cigarette and breaking another person's nose because he stopped his car with an excessively loud screech of the brakes.

As a result, when he asked for leniency during the trial, Judges Bracha Ofir-Tom, Miriam Sokolov and Yishayahu Schneller had difficulty accepting his plea.

"We asked ourselves whether this youth, who is on the verge of adulthood - and who has twice inserted a knife into the bodies of people who had not harmed him - was able to understand the true meaning of 'forgiveness' and 'mercy,'" they wrote.

The judges also said that the manslaughter charge was "very close in essence to murder." In fact, the prosecution had originally charged him with murder, but it later reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter because the youth stabbed Ya'akov only once, making it hard to prove his criminal intent.

The youth's mother testified during the trial that her son "was not a monster but a good boy who cared for us at home, and when he was home I was safe."

The judges acknowledged that the defendant had grown up in a broken home dominated by a violent father who was addicted to drugs, but said that this did not mitigate his offense.