Prosecutors on Thursday filed rape and murder charges against an Eritrean migrant whose alleged killing of his former wife’s daughter sparked a nationwide campaign to reduce violence against women.
According to court papers, victim Sylvana Tsegai, 12, fought back against her attacker, scratching at his face and trying to push him off, as he raped her and then strangled her to death.
Prosecutors filed an indictment against Tesfebarhan Tesfasion, 34, at the Tel Aviv District on charges of murder, violent rape of a minor, causing bodily harm, aggravated assault against his former partner, making threats, and obstructing justice.
He is accused of killing Tsegai on November 26, in a case that shocked the country. He spent two days on the run after the killing before he was arrested in Tel Aviv.
Tesfebarhan’s DNA was found at the scene, including under Tsegai’s fingernails, the prosecution said. He was also seen on security cameras in the area of the apartment before her death, and leaving the building afterward.
In requesting that he be held until the end of proceedings, prosecutors told the Tel Aviv District Court that while Tesfasion had admitted to raping and strangling Tsegai, he played down his responsibility for her death and concealed significant details from investigators.
“The brutal actions of the defendant, which were carried out with chilling and cruel deliberateness, were planned to a sickening degree, and were designed to ensure the death of the deceased and harm her mother, also testify to his audacity and the great danger he poses,” prosecutors said.
“Even after admitting to choking and raping the deceased, the defendant refused to reenact, or to provide further details, including where he hid his clothes and hers.” the indictment read. “The defendant gave a shifting version to match the evidence presented to him.”
Court papers showed that Tesfasion was married to Tsegai’s mother between April 2016 and June 2018.
“During that period, he engaged in serious physical and financial assaults against the plaintiff, to the point that the plaintiff decided to divorce him,” prosecutors wrote.
Around June 2018 the pair divorced and his ex-wife rejected his attempts at reconciliation, even changing the locks on her apartment and the building’s entrance to prevent him from gaining access.
In the days before the killing Tesfasion followed his ex-wife, and at one point gained entry to the apartment and took some documents away while Tsegai was there. At the time, Tsegai called police to complain, but did not report any violence by her mother’s ex-husband.
According to prosecutors, hours before the killing Tesfasion approached Tsegai’s mother outside the apartment building but she refused to speak to him. He then called her from a public phone and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you, don’t worry.”
“At that moment he decided to take revenge on the plaintiff and cause the death of her only daughter,” they wrote. He allegedly took a number of steps in preparation, including drawing large sums of money from the bank and turning off his cellphone.
Around noon on November 26, knowing that Tsegai would return from school and would be alone in apartment, Tesfasion allegedly climbed onto the roof of an adjacent building and waited for her to arrive. At around 3 p.m. he saw that the apartment door was open, jumped across from the neighboring roof and entered the apartment.
Inside he assaulted Tsegai, threw her on a bed and raped her, prosecutors said.
“The deceased fought against the defendant, scratched him, pulled at a chain that was around his neck and tore it,” the indictment said. “The deceased cried and yelled at the defendant to leave her alone while struggling against him and trying to push him off.”
“The defendant throttled the deceased with both hands for a long time until deceased ceased to resist,” it said. “Then, in order to ensure her death, the defendant took her phone and her key chain, locked the apartment and the entrance to the building while the deceased lay covered in blood, and left the building.”
Tesfasion tried to hide evidence, disposing of his clothes, the phone and the keys and the cash, prosecutors said.
That evening, Tsegai’s mother, who was working, became concerned that she had not heard from her daughter. After making frantic phone calls to find anyone who may know where she was, she asked to leave work and return home, fearing that Tesfasion may have harmed her daughter. Her employer escorted her to the building, where they found Tsegai’s body.
Tesfasion entered Israel in 2010 through the Egyptian border and was known to authorities for previous offenses. He was sentenced to a year in prison for drunk driving and forging a driving license.
He also previously escaped from a holding facility for African migrants and allegedly tried to obtain an extension for his permit to stay in the country by using a forged marriage license. Tens of thousands of African migrants entered Israel from Egypt in the last decade, and many now live in Tel Aviv.
According to reports, Tsegai was known to welfare authorities as a victim of domestic violence before the killing.
Tsegai’s death, coming hours after the discovery of the body of another murdered teen, 16-year-old Yara Ayoub, prompted a wave of protests opposing violence against women and demands that the government do more to tackle the problem.
Since the murders, there have been numerous protests and strikes by women to highlight the 25 women killed in domestic violence since the beginning of the year.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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