Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is in the process of approving a reform in the penal code relating to offenses of homicide, the Justice Ministry announced on Thursday.

According to a ministry press release, Neeman – together with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the heads of the state prosecution – is in the process of producing a bill based on recommendations submitted to the minister by a professional committee prior to the Pessah holiday.

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The announcement arrived a day after three men were acquitted of murder charges in the death of Arik Karp, and convicted only of the lesser charge of manslaughter – a decision that raised widespread criticism and sparked a protests in front of the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday.

Karp was attacked by the three while on a nighttime family outing on a Tel Aviv beach in 2009. He was found dead floating in the sea early the next morning.

In an interview to Army Radio, Hebrew University law professor Mordechai Kramnitzer, who chaired the committee that was appointed in 2007 by then-justice minister Daniel Friedman to study the issue, said that the committee attempted to create a hierarchy of homicide offenses that would reflect society’s concern for the sanctity of life. To that end, new categories will be recommended to replace the existing three, which include causing death by negligence, manslaughter and murder.

Among the recommendations submitted by the committee is a suggestion to split the existing murder offense into two separate offenses: the first “regular murder,” which will carry a maximum life sentence; the second “murder under aggravated circumstances,” which will lead to a mandatory life sentence.

Examples of aggravating circumstances are acts that are intended to aid or cover up other offenses; acts of terror; racist acts; acts that involve extreme brutality or mutilation; acts committed against minors under the killer’s ward; and acts committed against public officials or law enforcement agents.

The committee also proposed to split the lesser homicide offenses – dividing the existing manslaughter offense to “manslaughter with extenuating circumstances,” “manslaughter as a result of recklessness” and “manslaughter at the victim’s request.”

The committee also proposed adding an additional offense of causing death by harsh negligence.

A majority of the committee members proposed to add “indifference to death” to “intention to kill” as an element sufficient to define a killing as a murder – with the need to prove premeditation in the case of the offense of murder under aggravated circumstances.

Lack of premeditation was one of the things that saved Karp’s killers from a murder conviction.

The three, Jamil Ades, 25, Abed El-Rahman Ades, 21, and a 17-year-old minor whose name cannot be reported, were found guilty of brutally beating Karp and causing his pursuant death, either as a direct result of the beating or indirectly by causing him to escape into the sea where he drowned. But all three were acquitted of murder because the prosecution was incapable of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the men intended to kill Karp.

In their ruling, the judges stated that despite the fact that there was no question that the men’s actions had led to Karp’s death, there was no evidence that they intended to kill him.

The judges determined that the men’s behavior – the fact that they used no weapons, didn’t aim their beatings specifically to sensitive areas of the body, make any statements saying they wanted him dead and eventually allowed him to escape – did not establish an intention to kill Karp.

“This assertion necessarily dislodges the foundations for a murder conviction and makes redundant any discussion into the other necessary conditions for a murder conviction, namely, preparation and lack of provocation,” read the verdict.

The reason for the reform, according to the Justice Ministry’s announcement, is that the committee members agreed that the existing three-tier system of homicide offenses raises difficulties in properly punishing offenders.

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