The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Roman Zadorov was guilty in the 2006 murder of a student, Tair Rada, at a school in the Golan Heights community of Katzrin.
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Two judges on the three-judge panel ruled against Zadorov's appeal. Judges Yitzchak Amit and Zvi Zilbertal decided to reject the appeal and uphold the conviction, while Judge Yoram Danziger thought Zadorov should be acquitted due to reasonable doubt.
In a minority opinion, Danziger ruled in favor of accepting the appeal and acquitting Zadorov, based on reasonable doubt.
Danziger did reject Zadorov's arguments about the licitness of his confessions, which he claims involved three forms of illegal coercion. Zadorov had confessed of his own free will, the justice ruled. While the confession to an undercover police informant in his cell cast grave doubt on Zadorov's innocence, Danziger wrote, the impression arising from the totality of the confessions delivered under interrogation was not categorical.
Justice Amit wrote that Zadorov's confession to the informant was authentic: "The defendant is not feebleminded, weak of character or sensitive and fragile. He is a wary person" whose confessions included information that only the murdered could have known – like the impossibility of locking the toilet door from the outside, and how the girl was positioned while he slit her throat.
Zilbertal agreed with most of Amit's listed points, and stressed that Zadorov's confessions were authentic, and met the criteria that no reasonable doubt remain as to the possibility that he was the one who murdered Tair Rada.
Zadorov's defense lawyers, Avigdor Feldman and Elkana Laist of the public defense, stated that they were disappointed in the ruling and would be seeking another hearing on the case based on Danziger's minority opinion.
"There have been a lot of cases in which an additional hearing was allowed. We will file a motion for another hearing after discussing the case," Feldman said, adding, "Of course I am disappointed. There are too many question marks floating around that cannot be ignored."
Zadorov's wife Olga repeated her contention that her husband is innocent. "They couldn't acquit him because that would start a lot of problems," she said. "Unfortunately, for them the most important thing is the stability of the judicial system. They don't want to admit they made a giant mistake. They ruined the lives of two families and also for people who believe and people who know the case. The whole thing is built on lies by the prosecution and police," she said.
Olga Zadorov also said she had talked with her husband two days ago and he had been confident of his release because he is innocent. "I will continue to fight," she concluded.
This is the second time the court has considered the case on appeal, after being presented with additional evidence and sending the case back to the Nazareth District Court for reconsideration.
The three-judge Nazareth District Court panel ruled that the new evidence did not undermine the conviction of Zadorov of the murder of the student, who was 13 at the time that she was stabbed to death. It therefore issued a second verdict of conviction.
At the center of a long session that the Supreme Court held a little over a year ago on the appeal of Zadorov’s second conviction was the issue of footprints at the murder scene, a locked toilet stall in a second floor lavatory at the Nofei Golan school in Katzrin, including blood found on Rada’s jeans.
According to an expert prosecution witness, there was a high probability that the footprints were those of Zadorov. For its part, however, the defense presented the opinion of a former employee of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation who claimed that the blood stains were not footprints at all.
Recently, as disclosed by Haaretz, a complication arose in the case after the head of the commission that oversees the prosecutor’s office, retired Judge Hila Gerstl, issued a decision regarding an attempt to change an affidavit by the head of the coroner’s office, Dr. Chen Kugel, who expressed opposition to the state’s position in the Zadorov case. For her part, Gerstl said this constituted “apparent interference in the chief testimony of a witness” and ruled that the prosecutor’s office had mishandled the case.
The prosecutor’s office also tried to scuttle the appointment of Dr. Maya Resnick-Forman to a senior position at the coroner’s office, which is commonly known as Abu Kabir but formally known as the National Institute for Forensic Medicine. That was due to her testimony in the Zadorov case. At a hearing on Resnick-Forman’s case in labor court, Kugel, the head of the coroner’s office, asked to testify on Resnick-Forman’s behalf. The prosecution demanded that Kugel eliminate the portions of his testimony in which he backed Resnick-Forman’s position on the Zadorov case and in which he expressed his opinion regarding the prosecution’s handling of the case. Kugel refused to change his testimony and the labor court ultimately ruled in Resnick-Forman’s favor and ordered her placed in her position at the coroner’s office immediately.
Gerstl examined how the matter was handled and ruled that the prosecution had mishandled the matter involving Kugel, stating that his affidavit was not a draft that could be changed but rather a final document. “Any attempt to change it would constitute apparent interference in the chief testimony of a witness,” she stated.
For his part, state prosecutor Shai Nitzan contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein claiming that Gerstl had exceeded her authority and asking that her decision be rescinded. Weinstein will rule on the matter after receiving Gerstl’s response, which is expected shortly.