Israeli Man Who Served Eight Years in Prison for Killing His Rapist Found Dead

Yonatan Heilo's case sparked debate about self-defense in instances of abuse. His death is now raising concerns about rehabilitation for ex-convicts

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Yonatan Heilo upon his release from prison, July 23, 2018.
Yonatan Heilo upon his release from prison, July 23, 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod

Yonatan Heilo, who spent eight years in prison after killing a man who had raped him, was found dead on Monday on a beach in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. The police said there was no suspicion of foul play in the death.

Heilo was released from prison two years ago after serving eight years for killing Yaron Eilin. He was initially convicted of murder, but in 2016 the Supreme Court acquitted him of murder and convicted him of manslaughter, after ruling that Eilin had taunted and sexually abused Heilo for years. His sentence was reduced from 20 years to 12.

In November 2017 President Reuven Rivlin reduced his sentence by another year, permitting him to appear before a parole board after having served two-thirds of his sentence. The board initially declined his request to be released but six months later agreed to free him. Following his release, he returned to the Chabad yeshiva in Tel Aviv where he had been a student. He declined to return to his family’s household, which is near where Eilin had lived.

In August 2019 he was jailed for another year on orders of the parole board for violating the terms of his release. Staff dealing with his case said he had violated the conditions by drinking alcohol on three occasions and for involvement in a violent incident at a kibbutz in the north where he had been staying. The incident included a verbal confrontation with a man while Heilo was drunk. He was released again about six months ago.

According to his lawyer, Alon Izenberg, the authorities failed in their obligation to rehabilitate Heilo. “He found himself completely alone, dealing with all of the difficulties involved in the rehabilitation process,” the lawyer said.

Yonatan Heilo at the Supreme Court.Credit: Noam Moskowitz

Breaking the Silence, the movement that accompanied Heilo over the years, said that it is “pained and shocked at the premature death of Yonatan Heilo, whom we accompanied in the struggle for his release for five years. Yonatan deserved a better end. He was so eagerly awaiting release from prison and starting a new life, and we all hoped that he could finally receive support and help with rehabilitation, but that didn’t happen. His death is not a private matter, but a badge of shame for Israeli society for its attitude towards survivors of sexual assault and released prisoners. Yonatan’s death is a great tragedy that could have been prevented. Sincerely consolations to his family.”

One of the leaders of the movement, Sapir Slutzker Amran, told Haaretz that the movement tried “several times recently to meet with him, but it didn’t work out. He had a very hard time, he couldn’t find work. In addition to the fact that released prisoners have trouble finding work in any case, he was released during the period of COVID-19.” She said that Heilo “didn’t imagine his life like that when he was in prison and dreamed about his release.” Slutzker Amram says that recently Heilo had been living in his sister’s home in Netanya, and was not in involved in any rehab framework.

On the night when Eilin was killed, in May 2010, an argument arose between him and Heilo while they were outside a kiosk and drinking alcohol. Heilo claimed that while they were still talking behind the kiosk, Eilin threatened that if he didn’t pay him a thousand shekels, he would beat him up. When Eilin turned his back, Heilo attacked him and started to choke him. When Eilin fell to the ground, Heilo hit him in the head with a stone that he found there. Later, Heilo dragged him to a nearby trash bin and hit him in the head again. Heilo turned himself in to the police a few hours later and admitted to the acts. His claim of self-defense was rejected.

In an interview on the “Ulpan Shishi” TV program after his release, Heilo spoke about his feelings during the period when Eilin raped him. “I was a child at the time. I hadn’t really connected to life yet. And that guy came around every time and did very, very shocking things to me and looked for me all the time, and I never in my life thought that I would get into a story like that of manslaughter,” he said. “I didn’t even imagine it until one day it happened. But my mistake was that I didn’t go to … I simply should have gone and complained to the police.”

During the interview Heilo was confronted with the claim by the State Prosecutor’s Office that he could have gone to the police or fled and not attacked Eilin. “If they’re saying such a thing, first of all they don’t know the place I was in,” replied Heilo. “And secondly, had I gone and complained about him, he would have been released a few years later, what would he have done to me? Or from prison he would have picked up a phone and told this guy such and such, what would those people have come and done to me? I was so afraid of him that I used to … I simply didn’t want to leave the house.”

Heilo added in the interview: “I didn’t know how to deal with that either,” and replied in the affirmative when asked if he was referring to the shame.

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