Israeli Trooper Who Killed His Neighbor Acquitted After Three Years in Jail

Border Police commander Nir Somech shot and killed Ben Tal in 2009, after Tal allegedly stalked him and his wife and threatened them.

Nir Somech with his wife and father, near their home in Lachish, February 18, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A former Border Policeman who spent three years in jail after being convicted of killing his neighbor in 2009 was acquitted by the Supreme Court yesterday.

Nir Somech was acquitted by a panel of three Supreme Court justices on the grounds of reasonable doubt. He was released from the court immediately, after serving nearly a quarter of his 14-year sentence.

Somech had been convicted of shooting and killing Ben Tal, his former neighbor and friend, outside Somech’s home on Kibbutz Zikim in September 2009. Somech, a Border Police commander, maintained throughout the trial that he had shot Tal in self-defense. Somech and his wife told the police after the event that Tal had harassed and threatened them.

The main issues the Supreme Court debated in the appeal were whether Tal had raised a steering wheel lock – a meter-long iron rod – toward Somech, and if Somech’s reaction – three shots toward Tal’s head and body – was reasonable.

Justice Noam Sohlberg ruled that there was cause to doubt the testimonies of the three witnesses who claimed they did not see Tal holding anything in his hand, and to accept the testimonies of Somech and his wife, Tali, who was there. Tali Somech’s testimony was corroborated by the fact that the metal rod was found lying near Tal’s body, wrote Sohlberg.

Sohlberg added in his ruling: “The impression was that the iron rod could cause grave harm, especially when hurled forcefully in a fit of rage by a strong, strapping young man like Ben Tal. The damage potential of the rod hitting Somech’s head, like the real probability that it would happen (had it not been for the shooting), lead to the conclusion that Nir [Somech] was in real, immediate danger of his life.”

Be’er Sheva District Court convicted Somech of manslaughter in 2013, after acquitting him of the murder charge that the prosecution had filed. But the district court rejected Somech’s claim of self-defense.

Somech appealed the verdict, but didn’t ask for a stay of execution until the appeal was heard. In September, the Supreme Court offered him a compromise under which his sentence would be reduced to five years.

In the unanimous verdict handed down in 2013, the district court judges ruled that not only had the defendant failed to raise doubt as to his self-defense, but he had also “caused the death of the deceased deliberately and with preparation.”

The judges noted that he fired three times at Tal: once to the chest (and missing) and twice to the head. They said the shooting was unjustified because the defendant wasn’t in mortal danger, contrary to his claims to the court.

After he was acquitted of murder in 2013, Somech and his wife said in an interview on Channel 2’s “Uvda” (Fact) program that Ben Tal and Tali Somech had had an affair. After the affair ended, Tal threatened to kill himself and harassed the couple, they alleged.

“It started with one phone call, then two, three a day until it reached 40 calls a day,” related Nir Somech. They left their home in Moshav Givat Yeshayahu and moved to Kibbutz Zikim without telling Tal. But he found them a few weeks later and continued to harass them at their new home, they said.

Justice Sohlberg wrote that Tal was “obsessively jealous” of Somech and wouldn’t let go. Less than 24 hours before the fatal incident, Tal left a threatening message on Tali Somech’s phone. He suddenly saw Nir Somech as the one who had betrayed him by leaving the moshav with Tali so suddenly, the verdict said.

“Did Ben raise the rod? Did he make a movement from which Nir understood he was going to hit him with it and reacted, as he was trained to do in his police service? At this point, reasonable doubt enters – and this doubt is sufficient to allow self-defense,” Justice Isaac Amit wrote.

Attorney Avi Himi, who represented Somech with attorney Yair Golan, said the verdict set a precedent regarding self-defense in Israel.

Attorney Nahmi Feinblatt, who represented Ben Tal’s family, said he spoke to Tal’s mother, Aviva, and his sister, Keren, “and they’re stunned. Our struggle now will be to prevent [Somech] from being given a gun again, and stop him returning to the police force. His prison sentence has been too short.”