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Zvi Gur, Israel’s longest-serving prisoner, dies 41 years after murdering boy

Killer succumbs to cancer at age 74; family of victim says he will now be ‘punished in a heavenly court’

Zvi Gur (c), serving a life sentence for the murder of Oron Yarden, in the Supreme Court on July 6, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zvi Gur (c), serving a life sentence for the murder of Oron Yarden, in the Supreme Court on July 6, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zvi Gur, who served 41 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a young boy, died on Friday of cancer at age 74, four years before he was set to walk free.

Until his death, Gur was the longest-serving prisoner in Israel. On Wednesday, a parole board had granted him early release on medical grounds but agreed to a prosecution request to delay the move.

Gur was arrested in 1980 for kidnapping and murdering 8-year-old Oron Yarden. He kidnapped the child near his home in Savyon and demanded a hefty ransom, which he received from the Yarden family.

Gur was captured two weeks later when he deposited the money in a bank account and a teller recognized the serial numbers on the bills, which had been marked. After his capture, Gur showed police where he had buried the boy’s body in Netanya.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment and an additional 34 years for kidnapping and blackmail. In 1985, Gur was allowed to paint unsupervised on the outer walls of the prison, and managed to escape. He was captured six days later after a massive manhunt.

In 1999, Gur’s sentence was commuted to a total of 45 years by then-president Ezer Weizman, and he would have been up for release in 2025.

Gur was transferred a week ago to the care of the hospital inside Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, and was transferred to Shamir Medical Center south of Tel Aviv on Tuesday, still as a prisoner, due to his worsening condition. His attorney said Tuesday that Gur had lost consciousness and was on life support.

In 2019, the parole board turned down a request by Gur for early release. A 2017 parole board granted Gur release but the Lod District Court overturned the decision on the grounds that proper weight had not been given to the gravity of the crime and its unusually cruel circumstances.

On Wednesday, the Israel Prisons Service parole board approved early release for Gur on medical grounds, although prosecutors had filed an urgent appeal to delay his release by at least a week.

Attorneys David Forer and Limor Levy, who represent the murdered boy’s family, commented: “There is no forgiveness for the person who murdered Oron Yarden when he was eight. Until today the murderer sat in prison, and starting today he will be punished in a heavenly court. We thank the prosecution for its steadfast, dedicated stand alongside the Yarden family.”

But Gur’s lawyer, Eyal Alon slammed the prosecutor’s office as “cruel,” saying it “didn’t allow a man, in his last hours, to die in dignity when he isn’t cuffed in his hands and legs on his sickbed.”

Alon said that he “represented Gur for some 13 years; there is no forgiveness for his actions, but legally, he should have been granted early release, he met all the criteria. Unfortunately, the only reason he wasn’t released was the media backlash and public outcry,” he alleged.

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