After 26 Years, DNA Used to Indict Man for Murdering Israeli Woman

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Valery Sakovic in the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday.
Valery Sakovic in the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman

A 64-year-old man was indicted on Sunday for sodomizing and murdering a young woman near Jerusalem 26 years ago.

Valery Sakovic beat and sodomized Vardit Beckerknut, ignoring her struggles, before strangling her, states the indictment filed in the Jerusalem District Court. “The defendant dragged the deceased for about 17 meters to behind a concealed rockery in the forest, left her body there and fled the scene in his car,” said the indictment.

The murder occurred in November 1993. Sakovic was driving in Tel Aviv and saw Beckerknut on the street hitchhiking, he stopped his car and offered her a ride home.

But instead of taking the 27-year-old photography student to her home in Kiryat Anavim outside of Jerusalem, he turned onto a dirt road leading off Route 395, between Kisalon and Eshtaol, and drove into the forest south of the main road. There, he sodomized and murdered her, the indictment said.

Beckerknut’s body was found later that month with clear signs of violence. Police determined that she was last seen hitchhiking in Tel Aviv.

Sakovic, a divorced immigrant from Belarus with two children, was arrested last month. Under questioning, he admitted being in the vicinity when the murder occurred but denied any involvement in the crimes.

He was identified thanks to new forensic technology that wasn’t available at the time of the crime, similar to what happened in another cold case that was recently solved, the 1998 murder of Noa Eyal. A few weeks before his arrest, police came to the Jerusalem shelter where Sakovic was living and obtained a DNA sample from him, with his consent. The sample matched DNA found at the crime scene.

Sakovic immigrated to Israel in 1990, and returned to Belarus in 1994. He moved between the two countries several times, and most recently returned to Israel in 2018.

Law enforcement agencies have been working nonstop for 26 years to solve the crime, said prosecutors in a statement.

Sakovic’s public defenders, Mechael Ironi and Anna Brill, said in a statement that he is “an elderly man who suffers from many health problems. Since his arrest, he has protested his innocence vehemently and denied all the accusations. During his interrogation, he cooperated with the investigators and told his story. After we receive the investigative file, we’ll consider our legal moves.”

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