(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a murder trial lasting more than five years, the Beersheba District Court on Thursday acquitted Meir Jano and Yisrael Ganon of the killing of a 16-year-old girl who died because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The judges - Neal Hendel, Natan Zlotchover and Zila Zfat - ruled that the testimony to police given by the key witness in the case, Yaron Sankar, was unreliable.
Sankar, who was himself on trial at the time on charges of murder, armed robbery and other crimes, told police that Jano and Ganon had shot the girl, Shaked Shalhov, by mistake when they were trying to assassinate a local Ashkelon criminal, Shalom Domrani.
The victim was riding in a car driven by Domrani's chauffer, Yaniv Revah, in July 2003. The killers thought that Domrani was sitting beside Revah and opened fire, killing Shalhov by mistake.
After fingering Jano and Ganon, Sankar changed his mind and tried to back out of testifying at the defendants' trial. When he was finally placed on the witness stand, he refused to answer questions.
The state presented additional circumstantial evidence to back up Sankar's original allegation, but the judges ruled it was not strong enough to support a conviction without Sankar's testimony.
The trial of Jano and Ganon became famous after then-state attorney Eran Shendar petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the court to place Sankar on the witness stand even though he was on trial himself.
The court had refused to do so because of the so-called Kinzi rule, which prohibited witnesses who were on trial themselves from testifying as witnesses in other trials.
The High Court accepted the petition, but the legal procedures delayed the trial for more than a year. When Sankar was finally allowed to testify, he refused to talk.
Shalhov's parents, Ilana and Amir, were distraught after the ruling.
"The court did not mete out justice and the court does not mete out justice," said Ilana Shalhov. "What else can one say? I came to court today knowing they would be released. I knew the judicial system would not do justice. A murder trial lasting five years! Five years! How much could the judges remember of the testimony they heard?
"I have no doubt, not even for a second, that [Jano and Ganon] are the killers of Shaked," she said. "The one who sat on the left side [of the car] shot; the one on the right ordered him to shoot."
A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said she did not know whether the state would appeal the ruling.