'I Feel Like I Killed Somebody'

Former member of IDF chief's security detail convicted of sexual assault apologizes in court ahead of sentencing.

The former bodyguard of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi convicted of attempted sexual abuse offered his victim an apology Sunday, saying her testimony broke his heart. Erez Efrati, who faces a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison, appeared in Tel Aviv District Court and issued a statement to the judges ahead of his future sentencing hearing.

"I would like to ask the young woman for forgiveness, from the bottom of my heart," Efrati told the judges. "I saw her testify, and it broke my heart. I never imagined that I would find myself convicted in court. I am trying to find genuine, simple words that come from the heart, to express myself to this poor girl. My feelings of remorse and pity run very deep, alongside the shock and fear which have engulfed me during this long period in custody."

Last month, Efrati was convicted in a plea bargain deal on counts of attempted sexual abuse, and aggravated sexual assault, though the sides did not reach an agreement regarding the penalty. Efrati faces a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison. With the victim's consent, an attempted rape charge was dropped.

"I ask, with all my heart, for forgiveness," Efrati told the judges. "Since that terrible day I have awakened to the iron bars of my cell, and the reality hits me. I am full of feelings of regret and self-anger, for having brought this situation upon myself. It feels as though I killed someone in a car accident. It's a terrible feeling, and it will remain with me all my life." Efrati, who is engaged, had a bachelor party at the Tel Aviv Port in November 2009; after the event, he followed the victim to a parking lot. She managed to enter her car, but Efrati climbed into the vehicle and stopped her from leaving. He dragged her to the side of the Yarkon River, and used violence and threats in an attempt to abuse and rape her.

Asked by judges to account for this crime, Efrati stated: "I have no logical explanation for my action. I can't believe that this happened, but it did, and I have no explanation. What I feel is remorse. I never imagined that such a thing could happen to me. For the first few days I believed that I was drugged. I thought there must be some good explanation."

Prosecutor Ruth Erez demanded that the court level a stiff prison sentence, and force Efrati to pay compensations to the victim. Before Efrati's statement the victim and Efrati's fiance testified in a closed court session. The victim's mother wrote in a letter to the court: "Nobody is prepared to receive a phone call at 5:00 A.M. in which your daughter, our daughter, cries out in pain. Nobody is ready to hear the anguish and cries for help. ... The act of unknown, violent brutality erased in one stroke the self-confidence of our girl, who despite her age was still known as the 'little one' in the family. She is an independent, lively girl who, following a trip to the Far East, went out for a routine night in Tel Aviv and returned with a battered soul."

The victim was represented by Dr. Dana Pugach, head of the Noga Center for Victims of Crime, in Kiryat Ono.

Pnina Efrati, the offender's mother, told the judges: "Since that terrible day, which occurred just days before Erez's wedding, catastrophe has replaced our joy. This is a tragedy. Everything collapsed in a second."