A court on Tuesday approved a new plea deal with a Galilee man accused of killing his girlfriend two years ago that will see his charges downgraded from murder to manslaughter, drawing protests from the victim’s family.
Friends and relatives of Hila Nagar gathered outside the Nazareth District Court during the hearing, demanding that state prosecutors restore the charges against Riad Rushrush to premeditated murder.
“There is no justice in this country!” family members were quoted as saying in Hebrew-language media. “A woman’s skull was crushed, and it will go unpunished.”
Rushrush was indicted in early 2017 for murder in the death of 31-year-old Nagar, his girlfriend of a year and a half.
Rushrush, a 29-year-old resident of the mostly Druze and Arab city of Maghar in northern Israel, maintained his innocence throughout his trial, though friends and family members testified that he beat Nagar regularly during their relationship.
Two weeks before her body was found dumped on the side of the road near the Galilee town of Migdal, Nagar’s family filed a police complaint against Rushrush for domestic violence.
Police arrested Rushrush and held him for several days, but were eventually forced to release him when Nagar refused to testify against him. The case against him was closed due to lack of evidence.
According to the indictment, Rushrush threatened to publish intimate photos of Nagar online if she reported the abuse. After his arrest, prosecutors said Rushrush sought to exact “revenge” from Nagar.
On the night of the killing, Rushrush allegedly convinced Nagar to meet him a a coffee shop in Tiberias to discuss their relationship. On their way home, prosecutors say, he stopped his vehicle at the side of Route 90, where he bludgeoned her to death.
Construction workers found her badly beaten body in bushes on the side of the road the next morning.
During the investigation, police found traces of blood inside his car, but Rushrush maintained his innocence.
Along with premeditated murder, assault and battery, Rushrush was initially charged with suborning witnesses and obstruction of justice. His attorneys appealed the indictment, arguing that the prosecution’s entire case was based on circumstantial evidence.
On Tuesday, state prosecutors admitted there were “legal difficulties” in their case, and announced the new plea deal with Rushrush.
“This case was based on circumstantial evidence from the beginning. There is no direct evidence to prove that the defendant committed the offense,” the northern district prosecutors office said in a statement. “In addition to the legal difficulty, there are other difficulties relating to evidence that arose during the course of the trial.”
At the hearing Nagar’s family lashed out about the downgraded charges, demanding the court throw them out.
“Don’t accept this deal, I’m begging you,” Nagar’s sister Natalie said outside the courtroom. “Every day, women are murdered. You know that [Rushrush] is the murderer.”
“The justice system is completely bankrupt, the judges have no honor, the lawyers have no honor,” Nagar’s father, Yigal, said. “Shame on the northern district prosecutors office.”
“This was not manslaughter, it was murder, so please do your jobs” he told the court during the hearing. “We are begging you to reject this plea deal and prosecute [Rushrush] to the full extent.”
Prosecutors said they will pursue a 20-year jail sentence for Rushrush, the maximum for a manslaughter conviction.