The Wrong Place, the Wrong Time

A film to be aired on Saturday night tells the story of the Assaf Shtierman murder, and the two brothers who were hounded for four years for a crime they did not commit

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Police officers, lawyers and judges would do well to watch Nili Tal's film "Malice" (the literal translation of the Hebrew title is "Murder Without a Motive") which will be broadcast on Channel Eight Saturday evening. The film is about the murder of Assaf Shtierman, who was 18 at the time, in a forest near Kfar Sava. It took a full four years to bring the murderers, Rei Horev and Sigalit Heimovich, to justice. A third accomplice, Lihi Gluzman, got off, thanks to a dubious plea bargain (see box).

The main reason for watching the film is that it also tells the story of the brothers Yigal and Yoram Lasri, who were almost charged with a murder they did not commit - solely because the police were so intent on solving the case, and the prospects of a solution in this case were poor, due to the lack of a motive.

`It could have been anyone'

Assaf Shtierman had never been involved in a crime, did not owe money to anyone and had no enemies in Israel (he had returned from the United States to this country about two months before the murder, to do his army service).

The murder was not committed by Arabs or by a satanic cult. Those possibilities were ruled out by Superintendent Shalom Mins, head of the first special police team appointed to investigate the case. His original supposition was that a brutal crime of this kind could only have a "nationalist" motivation. The real motive was described by Rei Horev in his interrogation: "I didn't like his eyes. He had the eyes of a broad." In the film Horev says, "He [Shtierman] just happened to pass by. It could have been anyone."

Yigal Lasri was also in the woods on the night of the murder - December 4, 1996. At about 10 P.M. he was sitting with his girlfriend at the entrance to the forest. They smoked grass, chewed gum, ate some Bamba and drank something. Their poor cleanliness habits got them into trouble: they left behind the empty bags of the Bamba snack and cigarette butts.

The police took the findings to the Criminal Investigation Department, which found that the fingerprints on the bags and cigarette butts belonged to Yigal Lasri, from Kfar Sava. He had been fingerprinted in the past, on suspicion of using marijuana. His fingerprints are still in the police computer, even though he has no criminal past. Lasri was arrested immediately, but released when the investigative team realized he had nothing to do with the murder.

Four months later, a new police team was set up, this one led by Moshe Shapira. The new team showed the court "secret material" in the wake of which the judge ordered Yigal Lasri to be held in custody for a week. He was released when Shapira, like his predecessor in the case, found that he was not involved. Shapira reached an impasse and decided not to stay on the case.

After two police teams ruled out the possibility that Lasri was the murderer, a third team was established. The new team, headed by Reuvel Keller and Meir Amira, again arrested Yigal Lasri and took him, in handcuffs, to the place where he had been sitting on the night of the murder. He was held in custody for a week and then released.

No motives, no leads

Three years after the murder, the police had no leads in the case. The fourth special team, headed by Superintendent Shula Rosenberg, came up with a new theory according to which Yigal Lasri murdered Shtierman somewhere else and then dumped the body in the forest with the help of his brother, Yoram Lasri.

Rosenberg was more determined than her three predecessors to incriminate the Lasri brothers. They were arrested and, according to their lawyer, Moshe Sherman, were portrayed as the murderers on radio and television. On a clip from the Channel One evening news that is in the film, the announce says, "Our correspondent Guy Peleg reports that the Magistrate's Court in Petah Tikva went over the secret material that it received from the police and found that there are new findings that link the suspects to the murder."

The two brothers, frightened and helpless, try to hide their faces from the camera.

According to Sherman, the Lasri brothers were arrested in the wake of "a confession to a fortune teller." The fortune teller was Shirli Rokah, who reads cards and had served as an officer in the investigative unit of the Military Police.

Rokah was recruited by Rosenberg. "The police requested my services," she says in the film, "that I would try to incriminate the Lasri family. Their big idea was to make use of mysticism." Yoram Lasri explains how the police arrived at this idea: "I believe a little. I go to kabbala people to get strength. They put one and one together and brought her in as a fortune teller."

Sherman: "She told him, `I see a forest,' and then she turned over another card and said, `I see a murder.' It was all done to get him to talk." It almost worked. A scene from one of the interrogations shows Yoram Lasri telling Rokah, "I might have been there, I don't know. It could be that we did it subconsciously and we don't know."

Elsewhere in the film he says, "They claimed they had proof, secret material, and that it was only a matter of time. It's a problem to cope with the people who rule the country who claim that we did it."

According to Sherman, Yigal Lasri told him that he intended to confess to the crime. "I had to slap him in order to snap him out of it and tell him that I knew it wasn't him."

The police persecuted the Lasri brothers for four years. At the last moment, by chance, they were saved from incrimination. At the beginning of 2000, Rei Horev tried to murder his wife, Sandrin Ben-David.

She filed a complaint with the police and added that her husband had confessed to committing a murder in a forest near Kfar Sava four years earlier. Horev was arrested and told the interrogators with spine-chilling coolness how Assah Shtierman was murdered.

Beyond suspicion

Horev, popular, charismatic and handsome, the son to a physician and a social worker, with a brother who is a pilot, is the kind of murderer that no one would even think of suspecting.

It's more than likely that if things had been reversed and Horev, rather than Lasri, had been at the scene of a murder by chance, the police would not have hounded him for four years.

The conclusion the viewer draws from Tal's film is that the Lasri brothers were on the brink of confessing to a murder they did not commit.

A further conclusion is that the poorer the prospect of solving the case, the more likely that people who happened to find themselves at the scene of the murder would be unjustly accused.

The State Prosecutor's Office and the police are asked in the film about the supervision the prosecution exercised over the police, who were driven by the justified pressure to solve the case.

Another question was whether the prosecution is aware of the possibility that innocent people will be accused of committing murder.

The police did not give any response to the questions.

Copping a plea

Lihi Gluzman was at the scene of the murder along with Rei Horev and Sigalit Heimovich. Horev and Heimovich were convicted of murder but Gluzman was released after a plea bargain. Gluzman smoked marijuana with Horev and Heimovich and was with them when they started to beat Shtierman to death. She left as the murder was proceeding but did not summon help, and the next day began an ardent affair with Horev, the murderer.

The stated reason for the plea bargain with Gluzman was the legal need to back up Horev's confession with "something" additional: further evidence, which is essential when an indictment is based solely on a confession. It is less substantial than "abetting" evidence, which is necessary when an indictment is based on the testimony of a state's witness.

In this case, Horev's confession was credible, detailed and internally cogent, and it was reinforced by the fact that he described the murder to a third party, his wife. In this situation, the "something" could even be weaker. Almost certainly it could been found in the coroner's report. The conclusion: Gluzman got off without any justification.

The Justice Ministry refutes this line of reasoning: "Additional evidence could not have taken the form of what Horev's wife said and/or the findings of the forensic physician."

According to the State Prosecutor's Office and the court, Gluzman could not have been convicted of anything more than failing to prevent a crime and perhaps of conspiracy to commit a crime, but not of being an accomplice to murder.

The plea bargain that enabled her to escape even this reduced charge was rejected by many people, including Assaf Shtierman's parents. Many legal experts believe Horev could have been convicted even without Gluzman's plea bargain, with the aid of the coroner's report.

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