State mulls reopening grisly murder case after DNA test raises fresh speculation

Prosecution may check if 50 new hairs, reportedly discovered on body of slain Tair Rada, match strand determined to belong to ex-boyfriend of another woman linked to killing

Tair Rada (YouTube screenshot)
Tair Rada (YouTube screenshot)

Israel’s state prosecution said Sunday that it would consider “a thorough examination of the full findings” in the case of a 13-year-old girl who was murdered more than a decade ago, after a hair found on the victim’s body was determined not to belong to the man convicted of the killing.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan held a consultation in his office with representatives of the Justice Ministry’s Criminal Department, the Israel Police and its Investigations and Intelligence Branch to discuss recent findings in the case that could potentially exonerate the convicted killer.

Roman Zadorov, a Ukrainian-Israeli handyman, is serving a life sentence for the brutal 2006 murder of Tair Rada, who was found dead in a bathroom stall in her Katzrin school in the Golan Heights, with slashes to her neck, stab wounds across her body, and severe blows to her head.

But his lawyers, along with thousands of vocal members of the public, insist that Zadorov was framed for an act he didn’t commit and that the real murderer was a woman whose name is gagged by a court order and who suffers from mental illness.

Following a DNA analysis by investigators, the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute announced last week that the hair matched that of the former boyfriend of the woman, reigniting speculation about who committed the killing and whether Zadorov could be given a retrial.

The ex-boyfriend, whose name is also under gag order, has been referred to in Hebrew media reports by the initials A.H., while the woman has been identified as O.K.

“This is decisive evidence in the sense that it must lead to a retrial and the acquittal of Zadorov,” his lawyer, Yoram Halevi, said in a press conference broadcast live on Israel’s prime-time TV news programs.

Prosecutors now say that they will wait until further tests to decide whether to reopen the case and will “decide on further actions as necessary.”

Hadashot news reported Sunday night that the consultation was called after 50 additional hairs were discovered that Zadarov’s lawyers also want to test.

The latest developments comes just days after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that a witness arrived earlier this month at a police station in Nazareth Illit to testify that O.K. had confessed to her that she had killed Rada.

O.K. is now claimed to have told three people that she committed the murder.

The report also cited a document written by a psychiatrist who spoke with O.K. in 2014, in which she said she had a strong drive to kill someone. She said she was containing that urge, but only barely, and that she had purchased a knife and gloves with the intention of killing her neighbor.

Roman Zadorov’s lawyer Yoram Halevi at a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 25, 2018. (Flash90)

The psychiatrist had immediately sent her for involuntary commitment in a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Shortly after the murder, Zadorov, who worked as a maintenance man at the school at the time, was arrested and charged with the killing. Two weeks after his arrest, police announced Zadorov had confessed to Rada’s murder and reenacted the attack for investigators. But a day later, Zadorov’s defense attorney announced that his client had recanted, claiming his confession and reenactment were coerced and included incorrect information.

In 2010, nearly four years after he was arrested, the Nazareth District Court sentenced him to life in prison.

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Zadorov’s conviction in a split 2-1 decision. The dissenting opinion came from Justice Yoram Danziger, who said there was sufficient reasonable doubt to exonerate Zadorov.

Zadorov’s appeals against that ruling were rejected, with Supreme Court President Miriam Naor saying that despite the substantial public interest in the case, there was no “legal justification” to retry Zadorov.

A synagogue in Katzrin named after Tair Rada, who was killed in 2006 when she was 13-years-old. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

The state attorney’s office and the Justice Ministry said in a statement that all the evidence against O.K. had been thoroughly checked and found to be unreliable.

“The truthfulness of her version about her involvement in the murder was ruled out, but it was also ruled that there is no way to rule out the possibility that she had told various parties that she is the murderer as a result of a mental illness from which she suffers. To this day, there has been no new evidence verifying her remarks,” the statement said.

Her lawyers, Daniel Haklai and Tomer Schwartz, said police had “carefully examined” and refuted the suspicions against her, and that she was dealing with her schizophrenia in an “inspiring” manner.

Much of the public debate over Zadorov’s conviction focused on the type of knife used — the murder weapon was never recovered — and a bloody footprint found on Rada’s jeans.

In his confession, Zadorov said he attacked Rada with a box cutter, which has a smooth blade, whereas a forensic expert testified that wounds on the victim’s chin were caused by a serrated knife.

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