Drunk Driving and Prison Time: Who Is the Man Suspected of Murdering a 12-year Old in Tel Aviv

Police say Tesfebarhan Tesfasion, who was arrested after a two-day manhunt, had been romantically involved with the murdered girl's mother

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Tasafbaran Tsefsion seen in security camera footage on the day of the murder.
Tasafbaran Tsefsion seen in security camera footage on the day of the murder. Credit:

The suspected rapist and murderer of a 12-year-old Eritrean girl was brought to a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, where his custody was extended by a week. The suspect, an Eritrean asylum seeker, was arrested on Wednesday night near the Carmel Market after a two-day manhunt.

Police told the court the suspect, Tesfebarhan Tesfasion, had been romantically involved with the murdered girl’s mother and that he was suspected of raping the young girl, Silvana Tsegai, before brutally killing her on Monday afternoon.

Security footage from a camera at a business next to Silvana’s home, and taken the day of the murder, showed the suspect arriving at the apartment building at 1 P.M. and departing at 3:40 P.M. According to police suspicions, Tesfasion beat the girl to death during that time. Silvana’s mother found her body when she returned home at 9:30 P.M.

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The girl was known to the welfare services as a victim of domestic violence, it was reported. On Saturday she had called the police to complain that Tesfasion had been to her home, but when asked she reportedly said he had left again.

Two asylum seekers said this week that Silvana’s mother, Malay Guawi, told them Tesfasion had threatened to hurt her daughter a few days before the murder. A former neighbor said Silvana had told him her mother’s partner used to beat her. “She couldn’t go to the police by herself,” he said. “If they had complained in time, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Daniel Beeri said the evidence gathered so far established “reasonable suspicion” of the suspect’s guilt, and referred him for a psychological examination at his lawyer’s request.

Police representatives said Silvana’s body was taken to the Forensic Medicine Institute for examination.

Tesfasion, who was interrogated for two hours during the night at a Tel Aviv police station, has reserved the right to remain silent and has not confessed to the charges against him, police said. His clothes were taken for a forensic examination, as well as a saliva sample – which was extracted forcibly, according to his lawyer.

The suspect’s lawyer, public defender Shmuel Fleishman, said, “This is a grave incident, a tragedy, and we’re at the beginning of the investigation. He isn’t saying much. I understood he’s been in Israel for several years, had a regular job and was dealing with problems with language and communicating.

“He explicitly agreed to having his fingerprints taken, but the saliva was taken from him forcibly to check for DNA traces,” he said.

Tesfasion was captured after a citizen recognized him in the vicinity of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market from the picture published by the police, and called the 100 police hotline. “I think I saw him here,” the caller reported. “He was walking on the sidewalk holding a bag. He wore the hood of his raincoat over his head, and it wasn’t cold enough for that. That’s what attracted my attention.”

Tesfasion, 35, entered Israel via Sinai in October 2010, saying he fled from Eritrea after being asked to join the army. After evading military service for two years he was caught and imprisoned, but managed to escape and reach Sudan, where he lived for about a year, he said.

Later he moved to Libya, where he stayed for two years, before going on to Egypt and then to Israel. His mother and three of his brothers remained in Eritrea, he said. The lawyers helping him with the asylum request said his freedom and life were at risk in Eritrea, due to his refusal to join the army and his escape from prison.

Since he entered Israel, Tesfasion stayed in the central region and worked in sanitation for the Tel Aviv municipality, in a restaurant and in a supermarket in Petah Tikva, he said. In January 2014 he was convicted of driving without a license and sentenced to 14 days in prison. A few months later he was arrested for drunk driving and other traffic offenses and sentenced to a year in prison, which he served in Ela prison in Be’er Sheva.

“I’m very sorry, I made a big mistake,” he told the parole board hearing his request to commute his sentence. “I’ll never drive again, I’ll never drink alcohol again in my life.”

Although he had no discipline problems during his prison term, the board rejected his request for parole, as no rehabilitation program was prepared for him due to his status as an asylum seeker. “In these circumstances, when there’s a real risk to public safety from the prisoner, there’s no place to release him,” the board wrote.

After his release from Ela upon completion of his sentence, it was decided to hold him in Saharonim detention facility for his illegal entry into the country. Tesfasion appealed to the Be’er Sheva District Court against the decision, but his appeal was denied. He then appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted it.

The Supreme Court ordered the state to pay Tesfasion 10,000 shekels ($2,700) in compensation by the state some two years ago for wrongful incarceration in Saharonim.

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