Abeid to appeal conviction for killing Hanit Kikos

One of Israel's most complicated murder cases is to be revisited in the coming months, as Suleiman Abeid intends to appeal his conviction for the 1993 rape and murder of Hanit Kikos. Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who has represented the Beduin man since he was arrested in 1994, said he believed he could succeed in having his client acquitted even though he was found guilty on three occasions, the last time by the High Court of Justice eight years ago. "There is new evidence that Suleiman Abeid didn't murder Hanit Kikos," Feldman said in an interview, although he declined to give details. Feldman also reiterated his position that there was no evidence that Abeid murdered or raped Hanit and that a confession he made to police and later retracted was unsound. "His admission had no connection to the facts of how Hanit was murdered and where she was murdered. All of these things signal that his conviction was a mistaken one," said Feldman. "Today, after a number of years, the courts are more ready to accept the fact that people can confess to crimes they didn't commit. There have been a number of instances like this," he said. "Abeid is a man with poor [mental] faculties. He was not able to cope with an interrogation like the one he had. He confessed so they would leave him alone and not question him," Feldman said. The attorney will present his request for a retrial to the attorney-general after Pessah, and once he has responded, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling. "If the attorney-general agrees, the decision will be automatic. If he opposes it, there needs to be a discussion," said Feldman. Abeid, who has approximately 20 years left on his sentence, received support for a retrial from Hanit's parents, Rafi and Dallie. "I want a retrial so that we will see things they didn't see earlier. It could be that if they check today, everything will change," said Rafi Kikos. "In the Supreme Court [in 1998], out of nine judges, six found him guilty and three of them totally acquitted him [of murder]. This means that it wasn't even clear to the judges themselves," Kikos said. "At the end of the day, we have to know the truth," he said. Seventeen-year-old Hanit was last seen on June 10, 1993, trying to hitch a ride from her home town of Ofakim to nearby Beersheba, where she planned to attend her boyfriend's birthday party. Although Hanit's body wasn't found until June 1995, Abeid was arrested eight days after her disappearance. He was convicted of raping and murdering Hanit in November 1994 and sentenced to life imprisonment but has maintained his innocence since, despite his initial confessions. Hanit's parents also have doubts about Abeid's guilt. "We didn't get any clear evidence from the police that he was connected to the case," said Rafi Kikos. Dallie said she didn't believe that Hanit would have got into the car with Abeid, since the teenager had just finished watching the film "The Silence of the Lambs," which is about the hunt for a kidnapper who murders his female victims. "What does the film do? It's scary. That's exactly what happened to her. How could it be that a young girl... who has a head on her shoulders, could get in the car with somebody like this when two hours earlier she saw a film exactly like this... It's not an issue of whether I believe he murdered her or didn't murder her," said Dallie. "I don't believe that she would have got in the car with somebody like this. He was scary. He was a gorilla. Today he is thin, but then he was a gorilla," she added. Four days after his arrest, Abeid told a cell mate - who had been planted by the police - that he had raped and murdered Hanit, after which he made the same confession in a statement to the police. Abeid made additional confessions to his investigators and carried out two reenactments of the murder, although in one confession he said he threw Kikos's body in the Dudaim garbage dump, while in another he said he threw the body into a pit. At his trial, Abeid said he only made the confessions to please the police. "They put me under pressure until I gave in and confessed. I didn't know how to protect myself, so I told them what they wanted to hear," Abeid said. "They say I raped and murdered the girl. That's a lie. I only signed the confession because I was afraid and under tremendous pressure." Following his conviction in 1994, Abeid appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered a retrial in September 1995, three months after Hanit's body was found in a Beersheba drainage ditch. The Beersheba District Court convicted Abeid for a second time in February 1996, in a split decision. Abeid again appealed to the Supreme Court and in July 1997 it acquitted him of murder but upheld the rape charge. The lower court then sentenced him to 12 years in prison. The Supreme Court decision left the question of who murdered Hanit unanswered, and both sides appealed. In April 1998, a specially convened panel of nine Supreme Court justices convicted Abeid of murder in a six to three vote and of rape by seven to two. The case remained closed until this week, when the Ma'ariv newspaper said it intended to publish new evidence that editor Amnon Dankner said could prove Abeid's innocence.