21 years later, man jailed for life for sexual assault, murder of Jerusalem teen

Court also orders Daniel Nachmani to pay NIS 250,000 to family of Noa Eyal; case was cracked by advanced DNA matching of a saliva sample

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Daniel Nachmani, accused in the murder of Noa Eyal, is taken from the courtroom of the Jerusalem District Court on April 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Daniel Nachmani, accused in the murder of Noa Eyal, is taken from the courtroom of the Jerusalem District Court on April 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday sentenced a man to life in prison and an additional 16 years of incarceration over the 1998 sexual assault and murder of teenager Noa Eyal, which shocked the country at the time.

The court also ruled that Daniel Nachmani, 42 — who was only arrested in 2014 after advanced DNA sampling methods identified him as the culprit — will pay Eyal’s family NIS 258,000 ($71,300).

The method matched evidence from the crime scene to a saliva sample gathered by police from a street he spat on.

Eyal, 17, disappeared late at night on February 22, 1998, as she made her way homeward after seeing a movie with a friend. She was last seen waiting at a bus stop in Davidka Square in downtown Jerusalem.

Her body was found the following evening in a forest near the capital’s northwestern neighborhood of Ramot, where she lived.

According to the charge sheet, she took a ride with Nachmani after missing the last bus. Midway, he veered off the main road and headed to the forest, where he committed the crimes. The court in January convicted Nachmani, a married father of two from Jerusalem who works as a car electrician, of murder and sexual assault, but acquitted him of an additional charge of rape due to lack of evidence.

Eyal’s family released a statement praising the ruling: “The evil man that took the life of our Noa has no right to walk around freely like everyone else. The court today gave closure. Order has been restored, if only partially.

“Justice has been served. The word ‘justice’ is ironic to us, because what justice can exist for exploiting innocence and taking a life? This will be no relief or consolation for us. We will forever remain with the immense pain and sadness.”

Daniel Whitman, the prosecutor in the case, said: “The court today ruled that Daniel Nachmani, who viciously took the life of a young girl who was on her way home, will serve many years behind bars. We hope the severe punishment will serve as some kind of consolation for the family, which will continue to carry the pain and sorrow.”

The judges accepted the state prosecutor’s position regarding the punishment. Nachmani’s attorney opposed an additional sentence beyond life in prison.

The entrance to the home of Noa Eyal’s family in Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem on October 29, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Nachmani himself insisted in court that he was innocent, criticizing the judges for refusing to let him deliver a statement at the beginning of the discussion.

“I am innocent, and you, the court, are continuing to do whatever you want,” he lashed out. “I stayed silent for four years, even when they made me out to be a monster and brought witnesses against me. I’m no monster, I was arrested for a crime I didn’t commit. Despite police attempts to trample me, I didn’t confess.

“I regret what happened to the family, the loss of their girl, but it’s important that police continue searching for the criminal who committed the crime. My family is also on the line, I have two daughters, one of whom isn’t going to school. My wife is by my side almost every day. It pains me that she is suffering.”

Nachmani’s attorneys said their client maintains his innocence and intends to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. They also denounced the judges for refusing to let him speak, saying “no disaster would have happened” had they decided otherwise.

In the days that followed the murder more than 21 years ago, police gathered eyewitness accounts that said Eyal had gotten into a white Ford Escort car. Although there was a media gag order on all details of the case, a local Jerusalem newspaper at the time published some of developments including a detailed description of the car and identifying stickers in the back window. Police later said that report set back the investigation.

View of the Davidka Square in the center of Jerusalem. April 22, 2012. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

For 16 years the murder remained unsolved even though investigators had managed to obtain DNA samples of the suspect from the crime scene. Samples were taken from a long list of possible sex offenders across the country, but there were no matches linking any of them to Eyal.

A breakthrough came when police obtained permission to use an advanced DNA analysis method that enables linking between family members within the pool of samples held by cops.

The technology narrowed down the search to Nachmani as a prime suspect. Police began following him and manged to secure a DNA sample after he spat in the street. The sample matched evidence taken at the murder scene and he was arrested in 2014.

Nachmani also lived in the Ramot neighborhood at the time.

Cops also reviewed the signal from Nachmani’s cellphone — until recently the same number he had in 1998 — which placed him in Davidka Square on the night Eyal disappeared. An indictment on rape and murder was filed in 2015.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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