Supreme Court acquits former border police commander who had been convicted of shooting neighbor

The lower court had ruled out murder in light of the provocation, but had convicted Somech of manslaughter and a heavy 14-year prison sentence.

February 18, 2016 12:18
2 minute read.
The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted former Border Police commander Nir Somech of shooting and killing his neighbor Ben Tal despite an earlier lower court manslaughter conviction and 14-year prison sentence.

A three-justice panel of Isaac Amit, Noam Sohlberg and Anat Baron reversed the Beersheba District Court’s 2013 conviction and prison sentence with a rare second- guessing of the lower court’s factual findings of the circumstances of the shooting.

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Since the 2009 incident, the former Border Police superintendent had always claimed self-defense – that Tal was coming at him with a dangerous object, that he was harassing his wife and that he felt he and his children were potentially in danger.

The Beersheba court had essentially rejected his narrative, favoring the accounts of a few witnesses from Kibbutz Zikim where the incident took place, that Somech was not in danger.

Rather, their accounts suggested that Somech had been provoked by Tal and his harassment of his wife, but not sufficiently for firing on Tal three times in the upper body and head – clearly shooting to kill.

The lower court had ruled out murder in light of the provocation, but had convicted Somech of manslaughter and gave him a heavy 14-year prison sentence.

The Supreme Court thought Somech’s subjective mindset at the time combined with his story were enough to create doubt over the circumstances, with that doubt being enough for an acquittal.

“In light of the unique and exceptional circumstances of the incident, I also came to the conclusion that one cannot say that the reaction of Nir was unreasonable or disproportionate,” wrote Baron. “Though Nir was a Border Police commander who was used to using a weapon and even in instances where his life was threatened...nothing prepared him to cope with the situation in which he encountered not only a serious and immediate threat to his life – but also to his wife... at a time when his children were inside, and the one threatening was a person who had been almost a fixture of the home who had changed to a threat to the home [and the family].”

Somech is expected to be released soon, with his family and lawyers Yair Golan and Avi Himi overjoyed and describing the ruling as a new precedent for self-defense.

Tal’s family said they were outraged and wondered if Somech will kill again once released.

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