God's Stepchild

Murdered attorney Anat Pliner and her family are the direct victims of the horror, but T. is also a victim, despite all the protest.

The murder is a murder, horrifying and despicable; the murderer is also a murderer, base and abominable. But he is also a child, let us not forget, 15 years old at the time of the killing.

Parents of a 15-year-old boy are well aware of the difference between an adult and a child. They are familiar with the naiveness and the failure to distinguish between good and bad, the inability to postpone gratification, and the stormy moods.

Criminal culpability starts at 12, but you have to be 18 or over to no longer be considered a minor. Not for nothing is this the case. T. was a minor when he allegedly murdered Anat Pliner. He was a particularly diminutive minor; even today he still looks like a young adolescent in the pixelated photos.

Thoughts of this figure and his fate give me no respite. He planned the robbery alone, he went alone one evening with his father's knife to the house that struck him as especially fancy. He plunged the knife into his victim alone; it is unlikely he planned that. He was not part of a violent gang in which one member eggs on another; he was a boy who set out alone to rob someone, armed with a knife, for no apparent reason. For two years he apparently also kept the terrible secret, did not share it with a soul, alone in the act of murder, alone in the days and months that followed.

Pliner and her family are the direct victims of the horror, but T. is also a victim, despite all the protest. A child-murderer is still a child, the victim of something or someone. Was it the parents, the move from Givat Shmuel to new surroundings, more glamorous and exclusionary, the prestigious school he attended, or a serious flaw in his character? In any case, something went terribly wrong in his life.

Because he was a child at the time of the murder, T. is a victim as well. He must bear the responsibility for his terrible action, but not as an adult. Just as we do not permit children his age to drive a car or vote in elections, because of their age and all it entails, we must deal differently with children or teenagers who murder. Theirs should be a different sentence; more than anything, they need a caring and guiding hand, to rescue them from a lifetime of shame in a life of crime.

It is doubtful that T. is "a delightful boy," as his mother described him; maybe he really is a "hoodlum," as several of his friends described him. Nor is the protective mother's insinuation, that the murder occurred because Pliner "shouted and went wild," anything less than despicable. We must therefore ignore the tricks by lawyers specializing in fraudulent advice, who surely advised the mother to speak like that. It is also true that youthful knife-wielders have become standard fare around here: A few weeks ago two teenage boys, friends of my son, were stabbed at the Taste of the City fair, and were badly hurt, a matter barely mentioned in the media - a routine matter. Of course this grave phenomenon must be fought. Harsh sentencing alone is not the way.

T. is alone in jail now; he has already tried to kill himself. Many people would have rejoiced had he succeeded. "He tried to commit suicide, what has he got to be afraid of, here on the loneliest of streets," Yaakov Gilad wrote in "Yeled Asur, Yeled Mutar." The boy in the beautiful song is termed "God's stepchild". T. is also God's stepchild, not the devil's. When the time comes to sentence him, let us not forget that. Despite everything, T. deserves a modicum of mercy.