High Court revives homicide case of American hiker Ariel Newman

Ex-Yeshiva director: No one knows why he died, police-prosecution decide

MARK AND ELLEN NEWMAN with Ariel at his high-school graduation a few months before his death. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MARK AND ELLEN NEWMAN with Ariel at his high-school graduation a few months before his death.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday twisted the arm of the state prosecution into reopening a closed probe into the 2014 death of an American hiker in order to take new testimony from one of the witnesses on the hike.
The negligent homicide investigation related to the unexplained death of Ariel Newman, 18, a student from Great Neck, New York, during a hike in the Judean Desert on September 10, 2014. It centered on former officials at the now-defunct Mechinat Yeud program for Diaspora youth.
Previously, following exclusive reports in the Jerusalem Post, Deputy Chief Prosecutor for Criminal Affairs Shlomo (Mumi) Lemberger had ordered police to reopen their investigation twice to address new evidence brought forward in those reports.
However, Lemberger still stuck to the same final decision to close the case in December, leading the hiker’s family to file a petition to the High Court.
The High Court on Sunday pushed the Newman’s hard about why it should not just defer to the prosecution’s discretion and appeared ready to accept whatever final decision the prosecution comes back with after reviewing the new evidence.
But the development was still dramatic as investigations are rarely reopened one time, let alone three times, once the original prosecutor on the case has closed it for insufficient evidence.
Mark Newman told the Post, “We hope and pray that the indifferent Israeli prosecutors do not yet once again summarily dismiss the case after hearing Mayer Horowitz’s explosive testimony” that the driver of the car accompanying the hike heard Ariel cry out for his life and agreed to take him back to safety, but was overruled by the tour guide.
Newman family lawyer Amos Fried said, "After three-and-a-half years of uncompromising efforts to secure a genuine and comprehensive investigation into this tragedy, we are encouraged by the Supreme Court's instructions to the prosecution to persevere with additional interrogations." 
Yaakov Shapira, ex-director of Yeud, responded, “What happened was very sad and tragic. No one knows why he died…Was there negligence? Only one set of officials know: the police and the prosecution.”
He said that attacks on the police and the prosecution were problematic as they showed a lack of understanding of the high level of professionalism of those officials.
The police and the prosecution “make the final decision” and all parties must respect that. Shapira said.
He noted that the police had questioned a large number of witnesses who contradicted the Newman family’s narrative and that the police had far more close knowledge of all of those witnesses than Fried could have from only reading transcripts of the questioning.
Shapira also criticized the Post for what he perceived as favoritism toward the Newman family narrative, calling much of the reporting “fake news.”
Finally, he said that the public should know that he and others who were being accused of negligence in the case also had families and feelings that should be considered.
The latest development relates to new evidence from co-hiker, Mayer Horowitz.
The prior times the case was reopened related to coverage by the Post coverage revealing that the police had failed to interview two other key witnesses, some of whose incriminating testimony was also first revealed in the Post.
However, in December, the prosecution then cross-examined one of the key defendants regarding the two witnesses’ statements and still closed the case, leaving only Horowitz to stand on as new evidence that could be used to reopen the case yet again.
Regarding Newman’s death, the student’s parents, Mark and Ellen Newman, obtained a medical report that cited the cause of death as exertional heat stroke and dehydration.
At the start, police and prosecutors were slow to open an in-depth investigation and only did so after Fried intervened and met with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
In the first round of investigation, police and prosecutors closed the case without making any effort to interview two key witnesses and without fully confronting the main suspect and tour guide with the witnesses’ incriminating testimony.
Following the Post reports, the main suspect was confronted with the additional allegations, but now Horowitz’s new evidence could potentially lead to a new round of questioning suspects, including administrators and other educators potentially involved in the incident.