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The Tel Aviv District Court sentenced a 21- year-old man convicted of stabbing to death teenager Raz Hajaj in 2007 to 10 years in prison on Tuesday, after his attorneys agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecution. The court also ordered the defendant to pay Hajaj’s family NIS 120,000 in compensation.
The defendant was 17 years and 10 months old when he fatally stabbed 16-year-old Hajaj in the chest during a brawl in Herzliya in October 2007.
After the stabbing, the defendant was declared unfit to stand trial and legal proceedings were stopped. The trial recommenced last August following a medical report that said the defendant was now fit to stand trial.
In December, the defendant’s lawyers reached a deal with state prosecutors, under which the youth agreed to plead guilty to Hajaj’s manslaughter in return for a 10-year prison sentence including the almost four years he spent hospitalized in a closed psychiatric hospital and then in custody.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Judge George Kara agreed to the terms of the plea bargain. As a result of the ruling, the defendant will spend another five years and seven months in prison.
Ilana Hajaj, Raz’s mother, told The Jerusalem Post after the hearing that the family had strongly opposed the plea bargain, which she said was too lenient. She added that the court should not have agreed to reduce the defendant’s sentence because he was mentally ill, and that she feared he could kill again when he is released.
Attorney Dr. Dana Pugatch, chairman of the Noga Legal Center at the Ono Academic College, who accompanied the Hajaj family throughout the trial, said the legal system did not know how to deal with serious crimes where defendants present psychiatric arguments.
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“It is not clear why the court decided to deduct the defendant’s time in hospital from his prison term,” Pugatch said. “A lengthy hospitalization is not prison time.”
Following the court hearing, Hajaj’s family joined a demonstration outside the courthouse with another family, that of Arieh Gazit, killed last year during a robbery in Tel Aviv’s central bus station.
Like Hajaj’s family, Gazit’s family are also protesting against plea bargains signed with killers who plead guilty to manslaughter charges.
The families called for harsher punishments against those charged with manslaughter.
Lara Tsinman from the Organization of Families of Murder Victims told the Post on Tuesday that one major problem is the big difference between the mandatory life term for adults convicted of murder and prison terms for manslaughter.
“The punishment for manslaughter is too light,” she said.
Tsinman said the country is experiencing a wave of killings over trivial matters, in many cases – such as that of Hajaj – involving minors. In these cases, it is the families of victims who pay the price for the outdated legislation, Tsinman said, when killers are convicted of manslaughter not murder and receive lighter sentences – often in plea bargains, as in the Hajaj case.
Tsinman pointed to a Beersheba District Juvenile Court ruling on Monday, in which a minor was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison, again after his lawyers agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecution.
“Those sentenced to manslaughter can apply for parole after they served just a quarter of their sentence,” she added. “So someone can be convicted of manslaughter and be released in just two or three years.”
Unlike other countries, including the US, Israel’s penal code does not include provision for different degrees of murder. Legal experts for years have called to reform this legislation, which has not changed since the British Mandate.
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