Defense, prosecution mediation fails in Hebron shooter case
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Defense, prosecution mediation fails in Hebron shooter case

Military judges to decide fate of Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter for killing wounded Palestinian stabber

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF soldier Elor Azaria, center, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, arrives at the military court in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
IDF soldier Elor Azaria, center, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, arrives at the military court in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

The fate of convicted IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria will return to the military judges, after mediation efforts to resolve the defense’s and prosecutions competing appeals fell through on Monday.

Earlier this year, Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a Palestinian assailant who had 11 minutes before stabbed an IDF soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, and was lying on the ground disarmed and injured.

Both the defense team and the prosecution filed appeals on the case, with Azaria’s attorneys seeking to get the conviction overturned entirely and the prosecutors trying to get the soldier a harsher punishment.

The soldier’s attorneys, led by Yoram Sheftel, contended that the prosecution lacked key evidence and that the military was arbitrarily applying the law, as other soldiers had not been tried for similar crimes.

Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Meanwhile, the prosecutors, led by Lt. Col. (res.) Nadav Weissman, claimed Azaria’s 18-month sentence was insufficient in comparison to the severity of his crime.

After hearing both sides’ arguments throughout the month of May, the military appellate court encouraged the prosecution and defense to “rise above” the enmity and attempt out-of-court mediation in order to resolve the case. Weissman initially refused, but eventually acquiesced.

On Monday, IDF chief prosecutor Col. Sharon Zagagi Pinchas oversaw a meeting between Weissman and lead defense attorney Sheftel, the army said in a statement.

But the mediation failed.

“At the end of the meeting it became apparent that the gaps between the sides are still significant and substantial, and don’t enable an agreement to be reached,” the army said. “An update to that effect will be delivered to the military appeals court.”

Attorney Yoram Sheftel speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2016. (Flash90)
Attorney Yoram Sheftel speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2016. (Flash90)

No date has been set for the court to render its decision in the divisive case, which has revealed deep rifts in Israeli society.

The army’s appellate court in Tel Aviv is led by a panel of three military judges, a major general and a brigadier general.

The appeal hearings have at times been acrimonious, with the two sides trading barbs and, at times, raising their voices, but sources said Monday’s meeting was to the point and professional, despite being ultimately unhelpful.

While this is not the first time an IDF soldier has been convicted of manslaughter, it is an exceedingly rare occurrence, as most cases are settled through a plea deal in order to avoid a trial. The few cases where IDF soldiers have been found guilty were under completely different circumstances, giving judges little in the way of precedent to determine sentencing.

For over a year, the soldier has been confined to base after being released from military house-arrest shortly after the March 24, 2016 incident. His time spent on base will not count toward his sentence, but nine days he spent in jail immediately after the killing will be deducted from his term, the judges ruled.

Adding an element of complexity to the case, Azaria’s military service ends on July 20, meaning that if a verdict is not reached by then, he will no longer be able to remain confined to a military base. In such a case, the judges would need to decide if Azaria would remain under arrest and if so under what conditions.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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