The Supreme Court has partially accepted the appeal of Yonatan Heilo, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering his rapist. The court changed the charge from murder to manslaughter, and reduced his sentence to 12 years. Heilo has already served over five years of his sentence, and can be out in about six years, barring an early release.
Heilo originally received 20 years instead of life imprisonment, after the parties agreed that he had been a victim of sexual assaults by the murder victim, Yaron Eilin.
Justices Hanan Melcer, Uri Shoham and Daphne Barak-Erez unanimously agreed that although Heilo’s case was not a matter of self-defense, there was prolonged provocation on the part of the victim, which justifies reducing the charge from murder to manslaughter. Justice Melcer wrote in the ruling that Heilo was in no immediate physical danger and that his acts were not immediately required to repel an attack.
Melcer noted that Heilo did in fact make a decision to kill the deceased, but that there is reasonable doubt that it was premeditated. He may have lost his head due to the accumulation of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, and the deceased’s behavior prior to the killing, and failed to consider the moral repercussions of his acts.
The murder took place in May 2010, when Heilo, who was 23 years old at the time, came with a friend to the commercial center in the Kiryat Nordau neighborhood in Netanya, where he met Eilin. Eilin demanded that Heilo pay him 1,000 shekels “by tomorrow or the day after,” or else he would “get a beating.”
Heilo said that there had been similar instances in the weeks preceding the murder. At some point the two men walked over to an empty lot. When Eilin turned around to urinate, Heilo choked him and hit him on the head with bricks. The next day he turned himself in to the police.
Only during his third interrogation did Heilo tell the police that about two weeks before the murder, Eilin had sodomized him twice, a few days apart. “I was afraid. I said I only hope he won’t do that again, because the place was dark. I was afraid he would do it again,” said Heilo, explaining how he had felt in the empty lot. “I saw him from behind. When he was about to turn around, because of my fury and all my anger, I choked him. I was afraid he would kill me, I was afraid he would rape me again.”
The State Prosecutor and the judges of the Lod District Court agreed that Heilo had been a victim of extortion and sodomy. But “even if the accused was a victim of terrible and harsh acts on the part of the deceased, there are legal ways of dealing with such acts, and taking another person’s life should not be legitimized,” the ruling said.
Heilo’s defense attorney, Alon Eisenberg, said that he is pleased with the outcome, but as far as he’s concerned it’s not the end of the story. “I’m happy that the court acquitted him of murder and reduced his punishment to 12 years’ imprisonment," he said. "You have to remember that Yonatan killed the person who tried to rape him for the third time, and I believe that this case should have ended with a total acquittal."
“In my opinion this is a classic example of self defense, and until I see him released from prison this battle isn’t over," said Eisenberg. "The reduction in the punishment is significant, and in a year and a half from now we’ll be able to go to the parole board and he’ll probably get a third off and be released, but I think that we still have to continue and to do everything possible so that the president will pardon him long before that.”
Heilo’s sister was present at court and left the proceedings crying. “I’ve been crying for six years. I’m shaking and upset. The only one who believed him was his attorney. I hope we’ll see him at home soon,” she said.
Eisenberg appealed to the Supreme Court against the conviction and the punishment, and the appeal was discussed in December 2014. The state was opposed and requested that the decision of the District Court remain unchanged.