With the Nazareth District Court about to issue its verdict in the retrial of Roman Zadorov, Haaretz has discovered that the state successfully fought to keep the state's chief pathologist from testifying on behalf of the man accused of killing a 13-year-old girl in the Golan Heights in 2006.
The defense wanted Dr. Chen Kugel, the head of the national Institute of Forensic Medicine, to testify that the cuts on the victim’s chin were made by a serrated knife, not a straight blade like the utility knife that Zadorov used in his work as a renovations contractor at her school in the Golan town of Katzrin.
Zadorov originally confessed to killing the victim, Tair Rada, with such a knife, which the state says is the murder weapon. But he later retracted his confession.
“It’s clear that the value of uncovering the truth, which is at the foundation of criminal law, supports summoning Dr. Kugel to testify,” Zadorov’s attorneys said in a brief during a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court after Zadorov appealed his 2010 conviction in the Nazareth District Court. “This is especially true now that Dr. Kugel serves as head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, giving his professional opinion on the issue special weight.”
But the court has ruled in favor of the prosecution's argument that Kugel's testimony is irrelevant.
Letting Kugel testify “would effectively provide an opening for turning the current proceeding into an endless seesaw of mutual testimony and additional evidence, when fundamentally, the requested [testimony] neither helps nor hurts, and makes no contribution to uncovering the truth on one hand, nor does it undermine justice on the other,” the court ruled.
Prosecutor Sheila Inbar argued that Kugel's testimony was of no special value in uncovering the truth. “The truth it is vital to uncover in this case is the question of whether the defendant is guilty of murder, not the question of whom Dr. Kugel, who didn’t give an opinion on this matter, agrees with,” she wrote.
The prosecution also argued that Kugel’s position as chief pathologist means he is barred from testifying on behalf of private clients with whom he worked prior to being hired by the state because that would represent a conflict of interest.
“As a marginal issue,” said Inbar, “summoning him to testify in this case would put him in a conflict of interest.” To support this contention, she attached the agreement he signed on taking office in June 2013, in which he promised not to continue dealing with cases on which he had worked as a private pathologist.
The defense has also asked Kugel to clarify his views in writing. But in October, Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri denied him permission to comply with the request.
During the retrial, the defense introduced a report written in November 2012 by a pathologist from the private firm Madan, which Kugel owned and where he worked at the time. The report, written by Dr. Maya Forman-Reznik, said the cuts in Rada’s chin had been made with a serrated knife, not a straight blade like a utility knife.
Forman-Reznik testified in court that Kugel agreed with her analysis. But the prosecution claimed that Kugel said a straight blade could have been the murder weapon,.
Haaretz has learned that Kugel shares Forman-Reznik’s view that the cuts were made with a serrated knife. But when the defense sought to summon him to the witness stand to speak for himself, the prosecution objected, and the court agreed to bar his testimony.
The state argued that had Kugel really thought the murder weapon was serrated, he would have said so when he testified for the defense in Zadorov’s original trial. But his testimony in that trial dealt only with the question of whether the direction of the slash on Rada’s throat indicated a right-handed killer or a left-handed one. He was never asked about the nature of the blade.
The person who did testify about the blade in that trial was a former member of the police’s criminal identification unit named Alex Peleg. But the court discounted his testimony on the grounds that he wasn’t a doctor with expertise in forensic medicine. During the retrial, Zadorov’s new defense team is using Forman-Reznik as its forensic expert.