Naim Souri Limor Edrey
Naim Souri Photo by Limor Edrey
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The family of a defendant in a 2004 murder trial who was shot to death by a prisoner on furlough is suing the police force, the Israel Prison Service and a senior prosecutor for negligence.

The lawsuit was filed in the Nazareth District Court yesterday by Azmi Hawari's family, which is represented by Avigdor Feldman.

The suit indicates that in 2004, law-enforcement authorities ordered a dangerous inmate released from prison for 24 hours to help locate a key prosecution witness in a murder trial who had disappeared before giving testimony. The prisoner fled, and a month later murdered Hawari, who was supposed to give him the information needed to locate the missing man.

Hawari's wife and daughter said in the lawsuit that the plea bargain the prosecution reached in sentencing Hawari's killer, Naim Souri, to 12 years in prison was "aimed at compensating for the poor conduct of the police, the State Prosecutor's Office and Shalva Lewin." Lewin is the prosecutor who reached the plea deal and is named in the lawsuit.

The Israel Prison Service said in a statement that it would respond to the allegations in court.

Souri and Hawari were both released from custody in an effort by law-enforcement authorities to find Ihab Masri, the missing witness. Prosecutors thought Hawari knew where Masri was and wanted Souri, who knew Hawari, to get the information out of him.

At the time, Souri was serving a 19-year sentence for several serious offenses, including killing another inmate, aggravated assault, armed robbery and sexual assault of a minor.

Classified as a menace to society, Souri was deprived of furlough for 18 years, eight of which he served in solitary confinement. The suit filed yesterday indicated that the state prosecutor denied every request to grant Souri temporary leave, citing the continued danger he posed to society.

Nonetheless, Souri was released on August 31, 2004, and brought to Tel Aviv's Sheraton Hotel. He was supposed to stay in the hotel under supervision for 24 hours, but the inmate never returned to prison.

A police officer who testified in the case said that on the day Souri was slated to return, he called to say he felt threatened and would return within 10 days.

The suit states that nearly a month later, Souri met with Hawari in an apartment in Upper Nazareth and shot him to death.

Lewin filed an indictment against Souri for murder and additional offenses, but the charges were reduced to manslaughter and attempted murder as part of a plea bargain. The court sentenced Souri to 12 years in jail, one year short of the maximum sentence.