Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran.
(photo credit: screenshot)
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a retrial request from a man who has been in prison for more than 20 years serving a life sentence for murder.
The court upheld the conviction despite new exonerating DNA evidence and evidence that the man was on drugs and possibly delusional when he made a partial admission.
At the same time, the court took the rare step of blasting the prosecution for withholding evidence from the Public Defender’s Office.
Even with that rebuke, the court did not agree that Ovadiah Shalom should be acquitted for the August 1994 murder of Shmuel Levinson at his home in Jerusalem. It did confirm, however, that many of the prosecution’s deficiencies the public defender uncovered were problematic.
The Public Defender’s Office expressed disappointment that it did not obtain a historic reversal of Shalom’s conviction, but was gratified that the court issued a stern warning to the prosecution for withholding evidence.
Retrials are extremely rare, especially in murder cases, and almost unheard of 20 years after a crime.
They can only be justified if new evidence essentially blows the basis of the original conviction out of the water.
In this case, the public defender argued that it was presenting more than 40 new forensic evidentiary items to show an absence of Shalom’s DNA in parts of the crime scene where one would have expected the murderer’s DNA to appear.
They argued that this was weighty evidence that the trial court did not get to see and would have created enough doubt for an acquittal.
Another new development was the public defender attacking Shalom’s partial confession.
Shalom originally denied the murder. Over time, Shalom repeatedly changed his narrative several times. In one instance, he admitted to being near the scene of the crime when an associate of his killed Levinson.
This partial admission was eventually used by the trial court to convict Shalom as the murderer.
The public defender presented new evidence that during the time that Shalom made his partial admission, he was on certain drugs and presented an expert opinion that hew could have been delusional. Further, they said that he made the admission as part of an effort to cut a plea bargain to tie up other robbery charges for which he was guilty. This “calculation” was also made while he was on drugs or in the midst of drug-related withdrawal syndrome, said the public defender.
Recently retired Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran wrote that he rejected these findings were enough to undermine the partial confession and the other evidence that led to the conviction.
However, he did say the prosecution’s conduct in withholding some of the DNA evidence and evidence of Shalom’s being under the influence of drugs during interrogation was very problematic.
Joubran wrote, “This case should serve as a warning light” to the prosecution not to withhold evidence in future cases.
He also berated the prosecution for putting up unnecessary procedural obstacles for the public defender’s office to file requests for retrials.
The Public Defender’s Office said, “We hope that the lessons from this case will be deeply internalized and that they will undertake the obligatory changes” to help the office confront false convictions.