The Nazareth District Court on Monday upheld its earlier conviction of Roman Zadarov for the 2006 murder of eighth-grader Tair Rada, rejecting new evidence that the Supreme Court had ordered it to examine.
In December 2006, Rada was found stabbed to death in a bathroom stall at the Nofei Golan school in Katzrin on the Golan Heights.
Zadarov, the school custodian, was arrested less than a week later and was found guilty of 13-year-old Rada’s murder in September 2010.
He was sentenced by the Nazareth court to life imprisonment plus two years for obstruction of justice.
But in March 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reexamine certain evidence, including a forensic expert’s opinion (a former top FBI official) about bloody shoe prints found at the scene and another expert’s analysis of the murder weapon and the injuries to Rada’s head.
The new evidence had indicated that the bloody shoe prints, which the lower court had connected with Zadarov, were not shoe prints.
Also, the new evidence had indicated that the murder weapon was a serrated knife, or a knife with multiple cutting edges, and not the single cutting edge knife that the lower court had connected with Zadarov.
Despite the Supreme Court’s directive to reexamine the evidence, the lower court rejected both of these new arguments, standing by its original findings.
The Supreme Court’s order to reexamine these evidentiary issues had not required an acquittal or accepting the new evidence as true, but there was speculation that the Supreme Court would not have given the order if it was not hinting to the lower court that it had erred.
The lower court said it preferred the expert opinion offered by the prosecution at trial, who unlike the defense’s expert, had examined Rada’s body.
It chastised the defense expert for lower professional standards and for reaching an opposite conclusion in similar circumstances in a different case.
The lower court chided the defense on the shoe prints issue, preferring the prosecutions’ expert’s take, and expressing disapproval of the defense expert’s evasive answers under cross-examination.
Zadarov’s lawyer immediately indicated they would appeal to the Supreme Court, where they hope to get a more favorable ruling, particularly since the Supreme Court took the new evidence seriously.
The Supreme Court had said Zadarov’s conviction was based on confessions he had made to interrogators, a police translator, a jailhouse informant and during a reenactment of the crime, which justices said “were found to contain lies, manipulations and fabrications.”
At the same time, the Supreme Court said his confessions were backed up by evidence, including facts that Zadarov was able to point out about the crime scene, the positioning of Rada’s body and how she was killed.
The lower court said that Zadarov had several spontaneous confessions, including about having failed to cover- up his crime by failing to clean up blood that he left in the bathroom, which suggested his confessions were authentic.
Since Zadarov had already started serving his sentence, he has and will continue to do so, and would only be released if the Supreme Court acquitted him on appeal.
Rada’s parents, Ilana and Shmuel, became famous in Israel after the murder, with Ilana being outspoken in her doubts about Zadarov’s guilt, while Shmuel said he believed police had caught the right man.
On Monday, Ilana said she was still convinced that the state had incorrectly pinned the blame on Zadarov and was ignoring the search for the real killer.
The case captivated the Israeli media and public – a tragic small-town murder that from the beginning was dogged by rumors, including that local teenagers had killed Rada and the town or teachers had covered this up finding an easy fall guy in Zadarov, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union.
Ben Hartman contributed to this story.