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A protest yesterday following the controversial manslaughter verdict in the Aryeh Karp case. Photo by Moti Kimche
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A panel of legal experts issued recommendations yesterday to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman proposing that the criminal statutes provide for two murder offenses: a basic murder charge, which would carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, and murder under aggravated circumstances, for which a life term would be mandatory. Currently the law only provides for a single type of murder offense, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Among the aggravated circumstances proposed by the panel are murder motivated by race, murder of a law enforcement official, including a judge, prosecutor or police officer, murders involving extreme cruelty or abuse, terrorist acts and murder of a witness in a criminal proceeding. The panel has also recommended replacing the current manslaughter provisions with three newly-defined offenses.

The members of the panel, which was headed by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer of the law school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, included representatives from the Justice Ministry and the public defender’s office. The recommendations were issued a day after a controversial verdict Wednesday by the Tel Aviv District Court in the 2009 beating death of Aryeh Karp on the Tel Baruch beach in Tel Aviv. Two defendants in the case were convicted of manslaughter rather than murder. A third accused, a minor, was also found guilty of involvement and referred to the probation service.

Appropriate punishment

The judges in the Karp case based their verdict on a finding that, despite evidence of particular cruelty on the defendants’ part, the prosecution had not proven that the defendants had intended to kill Karp. If the new recommendations become law, the statute would expand the latitude the courts would have to make a finding that defendants had committed murder rather than the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The panel that issued the recommended changes to the law was convened by former justice minister Daniel Friedmann in an effort to examine the creation of a range of appropriate punishments, as well as other changes that would provide a better basis for sentencing by the courts.. The homicide statutes currently provide for negligent homicide, punishable by up to three years in prison; manslaughter, which includes spur of the moment killings, and are punishable by up to 20 years in jail; and murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

By creating two degrees of murder, the panel’s proposal would give judges discretion in murder sentencing.

The panel recommended replacing the current manslaughter provisions with three offenses: homicide under circumstances involving diminished responsibility, which would include cases in which the killing followed prolonged abuse of the killer or when the perpetrator had diminished capacity to understand his or her actions or to refrain from the act; reckless homicide, in which the perpetrator did not intend to kill although he or she was aware of such a possibility; and finally homicide at the request of the victim, or what would sometimes be called “mercy killing.”