Israel to pay for representative of victim's family to go to hearing

August 26, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Israel's chief legal officer said yesterday the Jewish state will pay for a representative of the family of a slain Montgomery County youth to attend a court proceeding next week at which Samuel Sheinbein, will plead guilty to murder charges.

The proposed deal, in which Sheinbein, 19, might be released from prison after 14 years, upset Maryland prosecutors who learned of it Tuesday. Montgomery County prosecutors said they would have recommended life without parole if Sheinbein had been tried and convicted in Maryland.

But Elyakim Rubinstein, Israel's attorney general, defended the proposed agreement yesterday. He explained that the 24-year sentence to be recommended by his staff exceeds the customary prison term for a minor convicted of murder in Israel.

Other Israelis worried that the dispute could adversely affect relations between Israel and its closest ally.

"The Americans don't understand how a strapping, healthy -- violent, even -- 17-year-old can be treated as a minor, and frankly, neither can I," Amnon Rubinstein, an Israeli legislator who is not related to the attorney general, told Israeli television.

Amnon Rubinstein led a successful effort this year to modify the law that Sheinbein used to seek asylum here -- albeit too late to require extradition of the youth. The 1978 law was designed to protect Jews from being prosecuted by anti-Semites.

Sheinbein was 17 when he and a friend allegedly killed and dismembered Alfred E. Tello Jr. on Sept. 19, 1997, in what Montgomery County prosecutors contend was a "thrill kill."

The plea bargain, which will be presented in a Tel Aviv court Sept. 2, was to remain confidential until the court session. But Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler disclosed it Tuesday to protest the prison term to be recommended by his Israeli counterparts.

In Israel, defendants are usually paroled after serving two-thirds of their prison sentence. If given credit for the two years he has served, Sheinbein could be released after 14 years.

But Attorney General Rubinstein said yesterday "it is not automatic" that Sheinbein would be paroled after 14 years. "The gravity of the offense is a consideration. Therefore, we do not know what will happen when Sheinbein requests an early release," he said. "I do share the feelings of the Tello family, their agony."

"What has been achieved here in the plea is by far, in the terms of criminal cases, in the upper echelon," said Rubinstein, who noted that in only two cases involving minors convicted of terrorist acts were the sentences greater than 24 years. "Plea bargains are even more common in the United States than in Israel." He said Israel would pay for a representative of the Tello family to attend the Sept. 2 hearing.

Irit Kohn, the Israeli prosecutor who handled the case, said the Maryland case might have taken two years to try in Israel. It was not problem-free, she said, referring to the April 1998 suicide of Sheinbein's alleged accomplice, Aaron Needle.

"Nobody saw a murder. His partner is dead. These are problems we would have faced," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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