Underworld Murder Trial Witness Recants Original Testimony

The Tel Aviv District Court yesterday declared Hila Bronner a hostile witness in a murder trial stemming from a brawl outside a Shefayim nightclub three years ago.

Cousins Francois and Avi Abutbul are charged with killing Ra'anan Levy; two other people are charged with lesser offenses in the case.

The court declared Bronner hostile after she retracted her original testimony to the police. That testimony - that one of Levy's friends had "made a remark" about Rosalee Attiya, the girlfriend of Avi's brother Amir - had helped establish a motive for the fight that led to Levy's death. Bronner is a friend of one of the men's girlfriends.

Attiya, who also testified yesterday, denied Levy or any of his friends had hit on her.

According to the indictment, a brawl took place on December 18, 2004, between two groups of young people who had come to the nightclub. At some point during the fight, Amir Abutbul called his brother Avi and his cousin Francois and asked them to come to his aid. The two did so, accompanied by two other friends, Assaf Ben David and Shai Makhlouf. When they arrived, Levy's gang tried to flee, but the four pursued Levy in their jeep and eventually cornered him. At that point, Francois allegedly got out and stabbed Levy in the chest and leg.

During yesterday's hearing, Bronner denied her original police statement, claiming that she had been pressured into making it. By declaring her a hostile witness, the court gave itself the option of relying on her police testimony, should it be found more credible than her courtroom testimony.

Attiya testified that while several people said Levy or his friends had made offensive remarks to her, this was untrue. Asked why, if so, Bronner had told the police that someone from Levy's gang did make lewd remarks to her, Attiya said Bronner had lied because the police threatened her.

Attorney David Yiftach, who represents Francois Abutbul, said afterward that yesterday's testimony by Bronner and Attiya had weakened the prosecution's case, as the claim that Levy's friends had insulted Attiya was important to establishing a motive for the murder. The key testimony in the case, given by Avi Abutbul's girlfriend Re'ut Reuven, was based on what she heard from Avi about the event, Yiftach explained, and because it is hearsay evidence, it cannot be used against Francois unless other evidence, such as testimony by Bronner and Attiya, supports it.