New IDF rescue report disclosed in American hiker death case

Police failed to get report before closing file

A BREATHTAKING view of the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert can be seen while guided jeep tour with Te’ima Mehamidbar (photo credit: EYAL TAMIR)
A BREATHTAKING view of the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert can be seen while guided jeep tour with Te’ima Mehamidbar
(photo credit: EYAL TAMIR)
Nearly three years after the prosecution closed a case that involved the death of an American teenager living in Israel, the IDF’s rescue report that was produced at the time has surfaced.
Now, the question is whether this new evidence, missed by the prosecution, will change the case from a closed file into a criminal negligence indictment going to trial.
On September 10, 2014, Ariel Newman, 18, a student from Great Neck, New York, died during a hike in the Judean Desert. At the time, Newman was studying at the now-defunct Mechinat Yeud program for Diaspora youth. The legal case centered on whether the former officials at the school took proper precautions to protect Newman from extreme heat and may have even actively pressed him to continue when there were signs that he was in danger.
The prosecution closed the case in 2016, but has already reopened the case three times to investigate additional evidence that it had failed to review, with the first two reopenings of the case being instigated by reports of new evidence revealed by The Jerusalem Post.
Despite these three re-openings of the case, the prosecution and the police failed to request the IDF’s rescue report, which appraises the medical status of Newman, a central question in dispute in the case.
According to Newman’s parents, Mark and Ellen Newman, and their lawyer, Amos Fried, their son died of heat stroke, which a variety of former Mechinat Yeud officials could have prevented. The parents have urged the prosecution to prosecute the Mechinat Yeud officials for criminal negligence.
To date, the prosecution has maintained that a mix of contradictory testimonies from co-hikers of Newman’s, some supporting the negligence theory and some disagreeing with it, prevents them from filing a criminal indictment.
What appears to be significant about the report is its multiple mentions of heat stroke and sun stroke. These points could be strong evidence to support the Newmans’ argument of criminal negligence.
The parents have said they believe their son died of heat stroke brought on by negligence in addressing the extreme heat that day. The defense claims their son had an unforeseeable genetic susceptibility to being endangered.
The IDF report appears to support an earlier medical report that identified the cause of death as exertional heat stroke, along with dehydration.
Further, the IDF report appears to indicate that Ariel was foaming at the mouth.
Both of these indicators could undermine the genetic susceptibility argument, as well as eliminate the need for an autopsy, which the prosecution claimed it needed to make a case, and which the parents blocked on religious grounds.
The report emerged as the Newmans, the state prosecution and the Mechinat Yeud suspects were headed to a showdown before the High Court of Justice on September 23.
IN JANUARY, the High Court issued a surprising conditional order to the prosecution, demanding it explain the failure to question a witness, Naftali Rothstein.
While Rothstein met up with the hikers at certain points of the 2014 hike as their driver, he was never questioned by police, and later moved to the US.
The court had earlier been expected to accept the prosecution’s recommendation and close the case, but the conditional order to question Rothstein breathed new life into the case, and the new IDF report has given the Newmans additional hope.
It was unclear why the police and the prosecution failed to collect the report which was sitting in IDF custody, despite three case re-openings which gave them additional opportunities to fill in missing pieces of evidence.
Regarding Rothstein, the prosecution has argued that his testimony would not alter their position that there is no basis for an indictment, while the Newmans maintain that Rothstein could shed new light on his and other suspects’ culpability.
The probe’s primary suspect to date declined to respond to the new evidence, but in the past, he and other suspects have listed many arguments to their defense, usually concluding that if the prosecution continues to close the case, that the family should move on from a tragedy – but one with no one to blame.
A plain reading of the report also shows that it has some evidence that could help the suspects defend their innocence.
“The importance of this document cannot be overstated and the fact that we had to expend such efforts to procure a copy proves yet again just how feckless the authorities have handled this case from the very beginning,” Fried told the Post. “The crucial information revealed here totally undermines everything the suspects have alleged up until now and it is simply unthinkable that the police never thought to confront them with this detailed, real-time depiction of events.”

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