A man who served 11 years of a sentence for murder had his conviction quashed Thursday after the High Court ruled that his admission of guilt was obtained illegally.
Elisha Chaibatov was convicted in 2007 of the 2002 murder of Shai Edri in the southern city of Sderot, based on the testimony of a police informer who had spent almost five weeks in a drug-filled cell with him, despite Chaibatov previously having denied involvement in the crime.
Edri, who was 34, worked as a cashier at a snooker club and was killed while attempting to prevent two masked men armed with a knife and a gun from robbing the venue.
Police were unable to find the culprits until a 2006 tip suggested the crime was committed by Chaibatov and Soren Sarohonov. By that time Sarohonov was no longer alive, and Chaibatov was serving a sentence for torching his own house and threatening his partner.
Chaibatov denied the allegations, though admitted he had been a regular visitor to the club. He provided an alibi but police considered it flimsy.
Police then moved him to a different detention facility and put him in a cell with a police informer, who was introduced to him as a leading figure in the criminal underworld.
The two spent almost five weeks in the cell together, and during that time the informant had constant access to heroin, which he would offer to Chaibatov right under the noses of the guards.
Kan showed videos of the two using aluminum foil and a flame to prepare the drugs and take them. The station reported that there was always heroin in the cell with them and they ingested a large quantity of the drug during that time.
Chaibatov continued to deny the charges to police, but ultimately his conviction was based on the informer’s testimony saying that he had admitted to the murder.
The court on Thursday did find Chaibatov guilty of other charges and sentenced him to four years in jail, but having already served 11 years, he was freed immediately following the court ruling.
“The appellant’s confession must be disregarded because of the use of drugs in the detention cell by him and by the informer,” the judges said in their ruling. “This crossed a red line, mainly because the interrogators were aware of the actions of the informer and did not see fit to stop them.”
They said that they accepted the appeal because the investigation had been tainted by “serious violations” and “the most fundamental flaws.”
The state prosecution said the court overturning the conviction was “highly unusual.” It stressed that in the past decade there has been a fundamental change in how police use informers. “Today there are clear procedures for police on this matter,” the prosecution said in a statement.
The ruling was read out by Judge Uri Shoham, who was marking his final day as a judge having reached the age of 70.