High Court: Murder in Front of Victim’s Kids Is a ‘Unique Cruelty,’ Demands Life Sentence

The murder of Salmalalk Tesera by her husband in front of their daughter constitutes as aggravated murder, which requires a mandatory life sentence despite appeal by defendant

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The murder scene in Netanya, in 2015.
The murder scene in Netanya, in 2015.Credit: Niv Aharonson/ Walla News
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

On Wednesday the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a person who murders a mother in front of her children shall be convicted of murder with aggravating circumstances, which requires the imposition of a life sentence. The justices noted that in addition to the tremendous harm caused to the children, the victim’s knowledge that her children were witnessing the event constitutes additional harm.

Justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Fogelman and Yosef Elron wrote that the murder of a mother in front of her children meets the aggravating circumstance of “special cruelty” that leads to conviction for the crime of aggravated murder – the most serious homicide offense in the penal code.

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by Adalo Ayalin to the verdict and sentence in his trial in Lod District Court. In March 2019, Ayalin was convicted of murdering his wife Salmalalk Tesera in front of their 17-year-old daughter and given a life sentence. The verdict and sentence were issued prior to when the reform concerning homicide offenses went into effect.

Ayalin and Tesera married in 2013 and had two daughters. In October 2015, after the marriage soured, an argument began between the pair, during which Tesera called the police and tried to leave the apartment, but Ayalin prevented her from doing so, holding the door, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her back into the apartment.

A., Tesera’s 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, who was present in the home the whole time, shouted at Ayalin to let her mother go and tried to free her from his grip, but could not. He told her, “Get out of here,” and showed her a small knife he carried on him underneath his shirt. Ayalin then slit Teseras throat and stabbed her. She collapsed, bleeding, and later died.

The vicitm, Salmalalk Tesera. Credit:

Ayalin appealed the verdict and argued that, according to the law, which was amended after his conviction, he should not be convicted of aggravated murder since none of the circumstances that appear in the new law were present, and therefore he should not be subject to a mandatory life sentence.

Instead, he argued that he should be convicted of a “basic” murder offense for which a life sentence is the maximal but not the mandatory punishment, and that the case should be returned to the District Court for resentencing.

The Supreme Court justices rejected the appeal. In their ruling, they said that “the terrible and horrifying circumstances of the murder make it possible to easily determine that it contains the element of ‘special cruelty.’ First and foremost because the deed was done in the presence of A., the daughter of the deceased, who was an eyewitness to the incident, which occurred when she was still a minor.” The justices pointed out that A. witnessed the entire sequence of events.

The justices emphasized that throughout the incident, Tesera also knew that her minor daughter was watching as she fought for her life and was unable to do anything to stop the attack. “A.’s testimony clearly indicates that this caused special, additional suffering to the deceased, beyond that of the killing itself.”

The justices also addressed the phenomenon of women being murdered by their partners. They said, “The murder of a woman by her partner in the presence of one of her children puts an end to the woman’s life while adding another dimension to the harm – her knowledge that her child is a witness to her murder – and leaves a deep scar in the psyche of the minor that will last for very many years. This means that the perpetrator of this action as a rule shall not be convicted of the 'basic' offense of murder but of aggravated murder, which requires a mandatory life sentence without this matter being left to the court’s discretion.”

The court also ruled that Ayalin must pay the deceased’s family compensation in the maximum amount set by law, and that this sum shall be divided among the deceased’s mother and her three daughters, including A.

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