President Reduces Sentence of Man Convicted of Killing Hanit Kikos

President Shimon Peres announced yesterday he will reduce the sentence of Suleiman Abeid, who was convicted of killing Hanit Kikos, from 33 years to 27 years.

Under standard early-release provisions Abeid could be released from prison in about two years' time.

Peres' decision to commute the sentence follows the recommendation of former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who recommended the reduction.

Hanit Kikos, 17, disappeared on June 10, 1993 after leaving her home in Ofakim. Abeid, from the Bedouin community of Rahat, was arrested eight days later. Abeid, who was around 40 at the time of the incident, is mildly retarded.

In 1995 he was convicted in Be'er Sheva District Court of the rape and murder of Kikos. In 1996, the Supreme Court acquitted him of the charge of murder but let the rape conviction stand. In 1997 another Supreme Court panel, of nine justices, reinstated the murder conviction and upheld the rape conviction and sentenced Abeid to life in prison.

"I was very involved in the investigation and from what I saw there was no situation or incident that could have linked Abeid to the murder," Rafi Kikos, Hanit's father, told Haaretz after the decision was announced. "The police cannot say he is the killer because they have no proof." He added that he nevertheless greatly respects Peres and his decision.

"On this day, I am not happy and I am not sad," Kikos continued. "Apparently the president had sufficient reasons for making this decision. If they decided to reduce the duration of his prison sentence it is a sign that something's not right, a sign that he is not the killer. The police, state prosecutor's office and the court decided to take Abeid out through the back door in order not to have to admit the mistake that was made. Today, after everything we have been through, we just want to reopen the case and catch the real killer," he said.

A relative of Abeid's identified only as Wahid said his family expects a retrial. "The handling of the investigation puts Israeli law to shame... Just because they didn't have anyone else they convicted him because he is Bedouin, because he is black, because he looks frightening, it was easy to convict him."