Convicted U.S. Murderer Killed After Israeli Prison Shootout

Samuel Sheinbein, serving life sentence in Rimonim Prison, shot and killed after he shot three guards.

An American-Israeli prisoner was shot to death in an Israeli jail on Sunday after he got hold of a gun and opened fire on three prison guards, wounding two of them seriously and one moderately.

The prisoner, Samuel Sheinbein, 34, was serving a life sentence for a grisly murder he and a friend committed in 1997 in the United States when he was 17.

Sheinbein was shot and killed by a large contingent of police and Israel Prison Service special forces at the Rimonim Prison in Even Yehuda, after barricading himself in the prison bathroom.

It was not clear how Sheinbein got hold of the weapon with which he shot the guards. “At this point in time we can say that the handgun was not grabbed from a guard, but we still don’t know how it came into the prison,” said deputy prison service head Eli Gavison on Sunday.

However, during a recent prison furlough, Sheinbein was arrested for trying to steal a gun. Following that incident, new charges were filed against him and the prison service decided to move him to another facility.

Attorney Orit Hayoun, who represented Sheinbein in several of his legal appeals, said he had phoned her shortly before he began shooting. She said that Sheinbein had told her he was distressed and that she had tried to help him by alerting personnel at Rimonim Prison. Hayoun told Channel 2 News that she had not received clear answers to her request for help, which could have prevented the incident.

According to the initial investigation, Sheinbein went into the bathroom of Rimonim Prison, then started firing from inside, hitting the three guards. Two other guards were treated for shock and four special forces personnel were moderately to lightly injured in the assault on Sheinbein. The reason for the shooting seems to have been the plan to move him to another prison.

Sheinbein, who was from Aspen Hill, Maryland, was serving a life sentence for the 1997 murder near Washington of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., a teenage acquaintance.

He and a friend, Aaron Needle, stabbed, strangled and beat Tello to death, then dismembered, burned and hid his body. Needle eventually committed suicide in a prison cell in the United States. With the help of his Israeli-born father, a lawyer, Sheinbein fled to Israel and claimed Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, thereby evading extradition to the United States. Sheinbein’s case prompted an overhaul of Israeli extradition law.

He pleaded guilty in an Israeli court in 1999 to killing Tello in a plea bargain. He was serving a 24-year sentence in Israel but could have faced life in prison had he been tried in the United States.

Last year, the prison service decided to halt his furloughs because of his bad behavior outside prison. But Sheinbein successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to regain his furloughs. Last year he was fined 50 shekels (about $14) after a knife was found in his cell.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who represented Sheinbein in his extradition proceeding in 1997, said that Sunincident made it clear that Sheinbein had needed help. “He was convicted when he was only 17, he had no criminal past…after 17 years, if they could not identify the problem he had, one wonders about the entire system,” she said.

Rimonim Prison in central Israel.
Tomer Appelbaum
Samuel Sheinbein, convicted U.S. killer who served life sentence in Israel