Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann yesterday recommended that President Shimon Peres commute the sentence of Suleiman Al-Abeid, and reduce it by six years, from 33 years in prison to 27. Al-Abeid was convicted of raping and murdering Hanit Kikos in 1993. If Peres accepts the recommendation, and Al-Abeid is paroled after serving two-thirds of his sentence, as is standard, he could be free in three years.
Friedmann's decision is based on a recommendation he received from retired Supreme Court Justice Miriam Ben Porat, whom he had asked to prepare an opinion a year ago on the possibility of pardoning Al-Abeid.
Ben Porat, who examined the case, noted the difference in opinions over the evidence and legal issues. She said she thought Al-Abeid was guilty, but that some of the judges had raised doubts during the appeals process. Al-Abeid was acquitted of murder but convicted of rape by a Supreme Court majority, but was convicted of both crimes by a majority in a rehearing.
Part of Ben Porat's reasoning is based on a commonly accepted legal doctrine that states that in order to jail someone for an extended period of time, a unanimous decision is needed.
Friedmann said yesterday that Al-Abeid's case is irregular, as polar disagreements arose between the judges on several levels and in several courts. Therefore, Friedmann said there was room for the president to use his pardoning power to a limited extent.
Rafi Kikos, the father of Hanit Kikos, said yesterday he supported Friedmann's move, explaining that he had demanded that the investigators examine additional evidence at the time of the initial investigation, but that they had refused.
"Everyone knows that I always said that he is not the murderer, and that is not new," said Kikos to Channel 2 yesterday, referring to Al-Abeid.
"I conducted my own investigation, I was with the police, I sat through the entire trial and I did not not see anything, in all the stages of the trial, no evidence that tied him to the murder. And when he said he buried her at Dudaim [a garbage dump near Be'er Sheva], it turned out not to be true. There were many things that reached the investigative team, and I asked the team leader to check other things, and he did not want to check them," said Kikos.
Kikos told Channel 1 yesterday that the Friedmann's decision "gives me hope that the file will be reopened and we will be able to find the real murderer."
Al-Abeid's nephew, Wahid Al-Abeid, told Haaretz yesterday: "We have not yet been informed of the decision reported in the media. We will be very happy if he is released soon. It will be a sign he is innocent, and this is the only way the legal system has found to free him. But if the process takes a number of years, then it is not worth it. If he is given a third off, then he will be released in five years anyway."
He said the family will continue to fight for a retrial, even though the chances are small. Suleiman Al-Abeid told his nephew by phone yesterday that when he is released he will reveal things that will advance his claims for a retrial and shed new light on the case.