Israel's Chief Pathologist: State Prosecutor Misled Court in Controversial Murder Trial

Roman Zadorov, convicted of 2006 murder of 13-year-old, claims he is innocent and is fighting for a retrial

Roman Zadorov at the Supreme Court, October 20, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israel’s chief pathologist, Dr. Hen Kugel, recently asserted that the prosecution hid his professional opinion from the court during the controversial 2006 murder trial of Roman Zadorov – and in doing so, misled the judges. Despite the severity of the accusations, former judge David Rozen, the ombudsman in charge of overseeing the State Prosecutor’s Office, declined to order an examination of Kugel’s claims.

Zadorov was convicted of the 2006 murder of 13-year-old Tair Rada at her school in Katzrin, in the Golan Heights. Even though the case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, which upheld Zadorov’s murder conviction, he maintains that he is innocent. He is still fighting for a retrial and his supporters claim new evidence can prove he didn’t commit the crime.

Kugel, the head of the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, held a meeting with Rozen about five months ago on the case, but his complaint was only recently revealed.

He said that when the prosecutor on the case, Sheila Inbar, questioned Dr. Maya Forman as a defense witness for Zadorov about the wounds on Rada’s body, she said one of them was caused by a serrated blade – and Inbar said Kugel disagreed with her.

A short time later, before the concluding briefs were filed, Kugel met with Inbar. He made it clear to her that as opposed to what she had confidently told the court, he agreed with Forman’s professional opinion in the case.

Even though Kugel had clarified this to Inbar, she never informed the judges that she had misrepresented his opinion. When Zadorov’s attorneys asked to call Kugel to testify to clarify his position, Inbar objected and the judges agreed with her. Inbar said there was no need for Kugel’s testimony, even though he is the country’s senior official pathologist and the head of the government’s forensic science institute. She told the court that Kugel’s testimony could be a conflict of interest because he had testified on Zadorov’s behalf as a private expert on a different matter before being appointed to his present position.

In the end, the Nazareth District Court harshly criticized Forman’s professional conduct in its ruling – criticism which the Supreme Court later rejected. This led to a further legal battled over Forman’s appointment to a senior pathologist position at the Institute, and in the end the Labor Court ruled in her favor. All this likely could have been avoided if Inbar had not hidden Kugel’s opinion from the court.

Two weeks ago, Inbar suddenly resigned as a senior prosecutor in the Northern District and announced she is moving to private practice.

Inbar recently sent prosecutors an email in which she said they have been transformed from “fighters for justice to managers and the managed.” In an interview with Channel 2, she called Zadorov a liar and that she is convinced he is guilty.

Kugel’s support of Forman's opinion was not revealed for more than a year. It was revealed as part of the State Prosecutor’s Office’s fight in court against Forman’s appointment at the Institute. When Kugel was asked to submit an affidavit to the court on the matter, prosecutors instructed him to remove large parts of it, including the mention of his support for Forman’s opinion, saying it contradicted the official position of the attorney general. The affidavit was submitted in its original form only after retired judge Hila Gerstel, the ombudsman for the judicial system, intervened. She harshly criticized the attempt to change Kugel’s testimony and the issue is now being heard by the High Court of Justice, which will hold a hearing on the matter on Wednesday.

Inbar declined to comment on the matter.

The State Prosecutor’s Office said Kugel testified in the case when he was still a private citizen and did not mention the serrated knife. Prosecutors never considered the type of blade to be important and the judges agreed, as did a majority of the Supreme Court justices. In addition, the judges were aware of Kugel’s opinion because Forman said in court that Kugel agreed with her, said the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Rozen’s spokesman said Kugel did tell him about the matter in a private meeting, and Rozen suggested that Kugel and Forman file an official complaint on the matter because without one, the ombudsman has no authority by law to open an investigation of his own initiative. They did not file the complaint, but the possibility of doing so is still open to do so if they so choose. In addition, Rozen recently asked Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to amend the law so that the ombudsman can initiate an examination without an official compliant having been filed.