Israel's Top Court Acquits Man of Murder After He Serves 12 Years in Prison

Calling investigation flawed, Supreme Court disallows confession made to jailhouse informant in case of 2002 murder of cashier

Elisha Haibatov,who will be released after serving 12 years of a life sentence for murder.
Screenshot from Kan broadcasting corportation

The Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted a man of murder after he spent the last 12 years in prison for killing a cashier in Sderot in 2002 in the course of an attempted robbery. The convicted man, Elisha Haibatov, was arrested four years after the killing, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The Supreme Court has now reduced his sentence to three years in jail and will be immediately released.

The reduction in sentence is the result of the court’s decision to disallow a confession to murder that Haibatov made because he was denied access to a lawyer for three weeks. The confession was made to an informant who shared a jail cell with him.

When he was arrested in January of 2006, Haibatov was held for 11 days without contact with the outside world and without being told what charges he was suspected of. During that period, his only contact was with the informant, who was put in his cell. The informant supplied Haibatov with heroin and other drugs, gave Haibatov advice on how to act under interrogation and promised him financial assistance. Three weeks after his arrest, Haibatov admitted to the informant that he killed the cashier, but Haibatov flatly denied involvement in the murder or robbery under police interrogation and when later confronted with the informant and at trial.

In his opinion on behalf of a panel that included Justices Hanan Melcer and Daphne Barak-Erez, Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham wrote: “The harm to the right to consult [with a lawyer] is of the highest degree, and it appears that officials in the investigation did everything, with the informant’s assistance, to prevent [Haibatov] from exercising his basic right to consult a lawyer.” The justices also ordered that their ruling be delivered to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit “in light of the seriousness of the defects, the manner in which the investigation was conducted and the problematic use of the informant.”

The Supreme Court justices cleared Haibatov of murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit a crime, but upheld his conviction on witness tampering, obstruction of justice and violating a legal order. The court had earlier proposed that Haibatov return to the district court to take the stand, but he refused.

The justices enumerated a number of flaws in the way the investigation was conducted. Justice Melcer wrote: “This is not how an investigation of criminal offenses should be conducted in a democratic country.” Among the defects noted were failure to bring Haibatov before a judge while in detention, barring him from contact with his family, accusing him of actions that investigators knew were baseless, failure to document the instructions given to the informant, providing the informant with compensation for extracting a confession from the suspect, making use of drugs in the case and concealing facts from a judge handling arrests.

Haibatov, who is 48, refused to testify at his trial in Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court due to what he said was his frustration over the court’s conduct. He was convicted of the murder of the cashier in a trial in which his refusal to testify buttressed the charges against him. The district court judge also accorded credibility to the informant, who accused Haibatov of being the one who smuggled drugs into their cell.