First Witness Testifies in Retrial of Israeli Convicted of Murdering Teenager

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Roman Zadorov in court in Nazareth, Tuesday.
Roman Zadorov in court in Nazareth, Tuesday.Credit: Rami Shllush

Roman Zadorov, the suspected murderer of 13-year-old Tair Rada, climbed out of the bathroom stall in Rada’s school during a reenactment of the crime in a way that exactly matched the footprints found at the scene, a police officer told the court during the first day of testimony in Zadorov’s retrial.

Rada was killed in a bathroom at her school in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin in 2006. Zadorov, a janitor at the school, was convicted of the murder and his conviction was upheld on appeal. But he was recently granted a retrial, due mainly to one key piece of evidence – a bloody footprint at the crime scene that didn’t belong to him.

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Yoram Azoulay, the officer who led the investigation into Rada’s murder and the first witness in the retrial, told the Nazareth District Court on Tuesday that the footprint was insignificant because many people were at the crime scene after the murder.

“Later on, we learned that there were even more that we hadn’t even known were there,” he said. “There were many people who came and burst through the door, looking for her – relatives, volunteers.”

Asked how the police settled on Zadorov as their suspect, Azoulay said that several potential suspects were questioned, but his suspicions focused on Zadorov due to one question during the interrogation.

Tair Rada.Credit: Reproduction

“I asked him, ‘What you were wearing,’ and he told me about his work uniform. I asked him where it is; he told me it’s in the school’s bomb shelter. But as soon as we went downstairs, he told me, ‘Oh, sorry, I threw away the pants.’ That’s when my suspicions were aroused.”

In addition, Azoulay said, during a reenactment of the crime, Zadorov proved to know things that hadn’t been made public.

“We were all surprised when we watched the reenactment and saw that he jumped out of the stall while holding the stall walls with both hands ... This matched the footprints we found on the deceased’s pants, and we discovered these footprints only after the reenactment.”

According to the indictment, Zadorov murdered Rada inside the stall, then locked the stall door from the inside to delay the discovery of the body and left the stall by climbing over its wall.

Prosecutor Meital Chen-Rozenfeld then asked about Zadorov’s emotional state during the interrogation. “When people say the investigation team faced off with a man who was psychologically weak, I want to know if you exploited this,” she said.

“We sent him for a psychiatric evaluation because he was pressured,” Azoulay replied.

Azoulay also said that even after Zadorov had confessed to a police informant, the suspect was reluctant to do a reenactment because he feared the cameras. It was at that point that Zadorov “said he only saw the body and cleaned the blood off the knife, but didn’t kill her,” Azoulay said.

During the cross-examination, defense attorney Yarom Halevy repeatedly accused Azoulay of putting words into Zadorov’s mouth. He also showed the court a video of the interrogation and then asked what instructions Azoulay had given the interrogators regarding deliberate deception of the suspect.

“You’re showing an edited, tendentious and misleading video that’s suited to a tabloid, not a court,” Azoulay responded.

Judges Asher Kula, Danny Sarfati and Tammar Nissim Shai said they want to focus on the new evidence that led to the retrial, which is expected to take about a year and include testimony from more than 80 people. The prosecution’s list of witnesses includes 15 new ones, most of them expert witnesses who will give their opinions of the new evidence.

One new prosecution witness is Ola Kravchenko, who at one point was suspected of involvement in the murder, though the case against her was ultimately closed. By summoning her, the prosecution hopes to prove that the suspicions of her involvement were thoroughly investigated and she in fact had no connection to the crime.

The prosecution said it would focus on three things during the retrial: Zadorov’s confession and reenactment of the crime, new evidence that supports his confession, and rebutting the alternative explanations the defense will offer.

The defense hasn’t yet submitted its list of witnesses, but it is expected to include its own experts who will give their opinions of the new evidence. One claim the defense hopes these experts will prove is that blood could have been leaking from Rada’s body for hours after the actual murder.

The Supreme Court approved Zadorov’s retrial request in May after concluding that the new evidence had “a real potential of changing the outcome of the trial.” In July, the prosecution issued a press statement about the retrial in which it said that even though it thinks Zadorov will be convicted again, “there’s a real public interest in holding the trial,” given all the questions that have been raised about the case.

The indictment in the retrial accuses Zadorov of first-degree murder. It says he followed Rada to the bathroom and slit her throat, and then, after leaving the stall, he cleaned the knife, changed his clothes and worked until the end of the day. Later, he got rid of the knife blade and his pants, it adds.

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