The Zadorov case

Perhaps the most notorious example of a miscarriage of justice was the conviction of Amos Baranes for the 1974 murder of Rachel Heller.

April 2, 2013 00:25
3 minute read.
Convicted killer of Tair Rada.

311_ Roman Zadorov . (photo credit: Channel 10 News)


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More than two years after the conviction of handyman Roman Zadorov for the 2006 murder of 13-year-old Tair Rada in Katzrin, the Supreme Court has ordered the case reopened.

The Nazareth District Court was instructed to hear the testimonies of two defense forensic experts.

The internationally renowned American forensics expert William Bodziak, whose specialty is footwear impressions, will argue that contrary to police claims, not only is there no match between stains on the victim’s jeans and Zadorov’s shoe, but that there is no shoe print at all on the bloodied garment.

Pathologist Dr. Maya Forman-Reznik will assert that the murder weapon was a serrated knife and not the smooth-bladed box-cutter of police contentions.

The court’s intervention must be welcomed by all Israelis who care to see justice served – and that without presuming to opine on Zadorov’s guilt or innocence.

From the outset too much in this case aroused extreme discomfort about both police and prosecution conduct.

Their strident opposition to reviewing the case, despite the possibility that exculpatory evidence might be presented, should in itself prompt more than a few troubling questions.

Any homicide is reprehensible. A child’s murder inevitably stirs even greater emotion and when it is perpetrated in school – where safety is assumed – it shocks all the more. Thus, when Tair was found slashed to death in her junior high restroom, the entire country grew alarmed. The ensuing investigation and trial generated a media feeding-frenzy, replete with alternative theories, second-guessing of police hypotheses and independent investigative ventures by journalists.

The heightened publicity intensified the ambition of officers and prosecutors to “produce results” and score prestige points. The three judges who convicted Zadorov in 2010 fully subscribed to the prosecution’s version and ascribed ostensible uncertainties to doubts sown tendentiously by “irresponsible journalists.”

But focus on the press is too facile. The police is hardly innocent. It and the prosecution are serially the most egregious of leakers. Often we learn of what transpired during interrogations while suspects are still being grilled.

In the Rada case, the police had only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its one-sided leaks and the paucity of supporting physical evidence.

In the final analysis, the buck stops with the police.

Trustworthy academic studies indicate that in this country, whenever police investigators deem someone guilty, the odds are even higher than elsewhere that person will not get off. In major felony trials, judges accept the police premise 98 percent of the time. This puts special onus on both policemen and prosecutors to clean up their acts.

Foremost, this should mean less reliance on confessions.

In the 2003 kidnap/murder of soldier Oleg Scheichet, the police arrested several Arab youths, conducted a reenactment of the crime and was well on the way to securing a full conviction, when the real killers were inadvertently apprehended with the dead soldier’s weapon.

Perhaps the most notorious example of a miscarriage of justice was the conviction of Amos Baranes for the 1974 murder of Rachel Heller. It was overturned only following years of relentless media harping on the issue.

Confessions can be scandalously unreliable. They can be forced, obtained by unacceptable psychological ploys, pressure, entrapment or deceit. Too little weight is placed in our system on corroborating physical evidence. Circumstantial evidence, when properly gathered and interpreted, is the most dependable. Invariably, though, this entails hard work, rather than “leaning” on suspects.

In the Zadorov instance, too many doubts have lingered, including the problematic confession and reenactment by a suspect who barely spoke Hebrew. The handling of forensic evidence was sloppy in the extreme and some potentially critical clues were altogether neglected because of fixation on Zadorov.

Worst of all was the jarring refusal by the prosecution to take account of exculpatory DNA evidence and to reevaluate other apparent gaps in its forensic data. That never seemed to square with elementary fairness.

Therefore, regardless of what the ultimate judicial review produces, it is good that it will take place because not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done.

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