Israeli Court to Rule on Psych Evaluation of Defendant in Palestinian Boy's Burning-alive Murder

Attorney for Yosef Ben-David, accused of killing Mohammed Abu Khdeir, submits last-minute psychological report.

Yosef Ben-David in Jerusalem District Court, December 19, 2015.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem District Court is to rule over the next few days whether to accept into evidence the psychiatric evaluation of the key suspect in the burning-alive murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, 16, in July of last year. The court made the decision on Sunday after a stormy hearing over the evaluation, which, unusually, was submitted to the court just a few days before it gave its verdict.

Throughout the months-long trial, the defendant, Yosef Ben-David, refrained from communicating with the judges. His attorney, Asher Ohayon from the public defender’s office, said Ben-David did not communicate with him either.

Ohayon agreed to the facts of the indictment – that Ben-David and his accomplices kidnapped, beat and burned Abu Khdeir alive – but argued that Ben-David was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder and thus he should be acquitted. However, the lawyer did not submit a psychiatric evaluation to the court confirming this. From time to time the judges extended the deadline they had given Ohayon to submit the evaluation.

Finally, a few days before the verdict, he gave the court an evaluation by a psychiatrist who does not work in Israel and who met with Ben-David in prison about six months ago. According to the evaluation, Ben-David is mentally ill and was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder.

The justices were angry over the defense’s move, but decided not to convict Ben-David until they make a decision whether to admit the psychiatric evaluation into evidence and to question the psychiatrist over it. However, the court did deliver a verdict that Ben-David committed the acts attributed to him.

In Sunday's hearing the prosecutor, Uri Korb, asked the court to reject the defense’s request to submit the evaluation into evidence.

An undated family handout picture of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
AFP

Korb argued that the evaluation was not written as a proper medical document, it did not relate to the state’s prior psychiatric evaluation that Ben-David was responsible for his actions, and that according to the principle of the finality of the hearing and precedents in Supreme Court rulings, such evidence could not be submitted at this stage. Korb also argued that the evaluation was written by an English-speaking psychiatrist who wrongly interpreted Ben-David’s statements. For example, when Ben-David said Abu-Khdeir had “seven souls” – an expression in Hebrew meaning that a person is able to survive several crises – the psychiatrist understood him to mean the victim was a supernatural being.

However, Ohayon argued that even if a request exceeds the rules, it is inconceivable that a procedural issue should hobble the defense of a murder suspect who could be imprisoned for life. Ohayon said no psychiatrist in Israel would evaluate the case because of its high media profile.

Abu Khdeir was abducted in the early hours of July 2, 2014 from the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Shoafat, close to his home. He was driven to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was beaten and burned alive by his kidnappers. The state has officially recognized him as a victim of terror.