Sheinbein pleads not guilty

He denies Md. killing but acknowledges role in body disposal

July 06, 1999|By Ann LoLordo and Tom Pelton | Ann LoLordo and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Samuel Sheinbein, the Maryland teen-ager who fled to Israel after the grisly slaying of a friend, pleaded not guilty yesterday to the killing but acknowledged his role in dismembering and burning the victim's body.

Sheinbein, an 18-year-old former Wheaton resident, is being tried in Tel Aviv in the 1997 killing of Alfredo E. Tello Jr., 19, because Israel could not legally extradite him to the United States.

"This creates a logistical nightmare. We expected him to plead guilty because we have a mountain of evidence against him. But now we have to have a full trial in Israel," said Douglas F. Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney responsible for the case in the United States.

The trial was adjourned until Oct. 10. The case, which is being heard before a three-judge panel in Tel Aviv, will rely on Maryland witnesses, including police. If convicted of murder, the maximum sentence Sheinbein can receive in Israel is life imprisonment. Legal observers expect that he would serve about 15 years because conditions for parole are more lenient than in the United States.

Gansler accused Sheinbein of trying to manipulate the Israeli judicial system, knowing that the foreign courts do not have the power to subpoena key witnesses in the United States, including Sheinbein's father, Sol, and brother, Robert.

The American-born defendant fled to Jerusalem in September 1997, claiming Israeli citizenship through his Israeli-born father. Israel's high court accepted his claim. A 1978 law prohibits the extradition of Israeli citizens accused of crimes committed abroad.

The case caused a diplomatic row between Israel and the United States, which demanded that Sheinbein be returned to Maryland to stand trial. Sheinbein's successful claim for citizenship also caused a stir among Israelis who did not want their country to be seen as a haven for criminals. In April, the Israeli parliament amended the law to permit the extradition of residents and nonresidents accused in crimes committed abroad.

Jailed days after his arrival in Israel, Sheinbein made no comment in the Tel Aviv court where the case is being tried. His lawyer, David Libai, spoke for him.

Sheinbein pleaded innocent to the charge of murdering Tello, a youth from suburban Maryland who was killed Sept. 16, 1997, in Wheaton. Sheinbein's co-defendant in the case, boyhood friend Aaron Needle, committed suicide in his Maryland jail cell last year.

According to charges read in court, Needle and Sheinbein picked up Tello from work on the evening of Sept. 16, 1997. According to the charges, the two teen-agers choked the young man with a rope, bashed him in the head with a blunt object and slashed his neck and chest. The location of the killing was not identified in court.

Libai confirmed that Sheinbein was present when the body was brought to the Sheinbein home in Wheaton and participated in events after the killing.

According to charges, two days after the killing, Sheinbein and Needle moved Tello's body to the garage of a vacant house on Sheinbein's street where the two chopped off Tello's arms and legs with a newly purchased electric rotating saw. They hid the body parts in an unknown place, the charges say, then burned the rest of Tello's body, wrapped it in black garbage bags and left it in the neighbor's garage.

Evidence detailed

Prosecutors say they have evidence that will make it difficult for Sheinbein to avoid being convicted of murder.

Investigators found Sheinbein's DNA in saliva on a glass in the garage in Aspen Hill where the victim was dismembered, said Gansler, the Montgomery County prosecutor.

In addition, Gansler said, a witness saw Sheinbein taking the body to the garage where police found the burned remains.

Sheinbein also wrote a note that talked about how he might commit a murder and made statements to his father and brother about his involvement in the killing, Gansler said.

Cost concerns

Flying witnesses to Israel could cost Montgomery County $500,000. Although the Israeli government has agreed to pay for the trial, Gansler is worried that Montgomery County might get stuck with some of the bill because Israel has been slow to pay past expenses.

Israeli prisons are considered less brutal than those in the United States. Prisoners, including convicted murderers, can apply for weekend furloughs every month, and murders and rapes among inmates are rare.

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