Israeli Court Orders Release of Woman Jailed for Killing Abusive Roommate

Release of Margarita Khomenko, who served five and a half years of an eight-year sentence, is part of shift in attitude toward women who killed abusive men

Neve Tirza women's prison in Ramle, where Khomenko is detained, August 21, 2018.
Meged Gozani

The Lod District Court on Tuesday ordered the release of Margarita Khomenko, who had been convicted of killing a male roommate who had beat her for years and had choked her until she lost consciousness, signaling further change in Israeli legal system's approach to women who killed abusive men.

She has served five-and-a-half years of an eight-year sentence.

Last month, a parole board ruled that Khomenko should be released, since they assessed that she does not pose a risk to the public, but the prosecution objected and appealed to the court. The court ruled that she should be released immediately to a shelter operated by the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. Khomenko will officially be released from detention on Sunday.

While in prison, Khomenko participated in an anti-violence treatment program, but the prosecution argued that there were professionals who believed she needed additional therapy in prison and was refusing it. The parole board, though, supported her release after she explained that she was unable to regularly attend therapy sessions because she had to work in prison to support herself. An appeal filed by the prosecution on behalf of the attorney general against Khomenko's release claims that she still poses a threat to the public.

Judges Varda Meroz, Zahava Bustan and Dvora Atar dismissed the prosecution’s arguments, stating that her release to a rehabilitation shelter would benefit her and prepare her for life outside of prison. In their ruling, they wrote that although the crime Khomenko committed was serious, it was the result of “Her complex relationship with the deceased,” Genady Drozovsky.

Attorney Ariella Guata, the public defender who represented Khomenko, welcomed the court ruling, “Which did not ignore the very unique circumstances of this case, and which ordered Magarita’s release in accordance with the parole board decision." She added, "We hope the authorities will give Margarita a hand in the complex rehabilitation process that lies before her.”

Khomenko was born in northern Russia in 1959. She completed a university degree in business management and married at a young age, bearing a daughter who died at seven months and a son who was born two years later. The couple divorced because he was violent; she later remarried. In 1996, she immigrated to Israel along with her husband, parents, and sister. The family found it difficult to adapt, and about six months after arriving in Israel, her father died. Her mother and sister later returned to Russia. In 2008, Khomenko’s husband died suddenly. After his death, her emotional, medical and financial condition deteriorated. She stopped working and ran up debts until she was left without a roof over her head.

That is when she met Drozovsky, who was a homeless alcoholic over 10 years her junior. Over the years, the pair, who were not romantically involved, moved from one rented apartment to another, sometimes living in public parks.

In April 2014, about four and a half months before Drozovsky’s death, Khomenko filed a police report against him – and as a result he was indicted for assault, making threats and damaging property. Drozovsky told a police officer during his interrogation that he “was arrested because of her, I’m definitely going back home and choking her after getting out.”

In September 2014, the two had an argument after Drozovsky came home drunk. During the fight, he pushed her down on the bed, sat on her and choked her until she lost consciousness. She fought back, and at one point managed to free herself. After drinking, she stabbed him to death with a knife.

In September 2015 she was convicted Drozovsky’s killing. She was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, but the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to eight years on appeal, due to her difficulties and the circumstances of the killing.

Over the past year, legal approaches to women who killed their abusive partners has been undergoing change. Criminal responsibility has been reduced in these circumstances; the maximum sentence in such cases is now 15 years. 

Over the past few months, Dalal Daoud and Simona Mori, who were both convicted of murdering their abusive partners, won early release on parole – accompanied by broad public support and protests on their behalf, and resistance from the prosecution.