Accused hitman denies conspiring with Tzeziashvilli in judge's murder

Rafi Nahmani, the man accused of firing the shots that killed Tel Aviv District Court Judge Adi Azar, denied on Tuesday that he had conspired with the other murder suspect, Yitzhak Tzeziashvilli, to escape from prison and assassinate the judge. Nahmani added that he had not been in touch with Tzeziashvilli throughout the two years that he was a fugitive from prison until his arrest following Azar's murder. According to the indictment, Nahmani killed Azar on the instructions of Tzeziashvilli, whom he had met in Ayalon Prison, where both were serving life sentences for murder. During his testimony on Tuesday, Nahmani said that there was no special connection between Tzeziashvilli and him and that "I was his friend like I was everyone's friend." After serving seven years of his sentence, Nahmani was granted his first 24-hour furlough in 2002, from which he did not return. But the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office prosecutor, Ziva Kendal, pointed out that the first thing Nahmani did after receiving his furlough was to visit Tzeziashvilli's parents. She also pointed out that after leaving prison, Tzeziashvilli's friend Yossi Shavit had picked him up and driven him to Haifa, where Tzeziashvilli's parents lived. Nahmani replied that the visit meant nothing and that if Shavit had not picked him up, he would not have gone to see them. He added that he did not know whether Tzeziashvilli had arranged for Shavit to pick him up. Nahmani, who had already said in court on Thursday that he was in his room at the Eilat Hotel in Tel Aviv at the time of Azar's murder, said that someone, whom he refused to name, had called him on July 20, 2004, the day after the murder, and offered him $20,000 to pick up a gun and transfer it to another location. The man said the gun would help Tzeziashvilli in making some sort of negotiation. Nahmani added that the man had not told him the gun was connected to Azar's murder, but he knew it immediately. "You didn't have to be a genius to figure that out," he added. The man told him that Avinoam Hajbi had the gun. Hajbi is the man who drove Azar's killer to the judge's home on the night of the murder. While a fugitive, Nahmani had worked with Hajbi in a debt-collection office and had even stayed at his home for six weeks. Hajbi has meanwhile turned state's witness and testified that it was Nahmani he drove to Azar's house on the evening of the killing. Nahmani told the court that he had picked up the gun near Mikhmoret and drove it to a site on Palmahim Beach. He said he asked no questions and had not wanted to know anything about the pistol. Asked why he was unwilling to identify the man who had called him and offered him money to transfer the gun, Nahmani replied that he was a lifetime prison convict and he wanted to protect his life and the lives of others on the outside. In another development, the judges presiding over the case, Deputy President Zvi Segal, Yoram Noam and Raphael Carmel, decided on Monday to bar Tzeziashvilli from testifying in his defense, after he and his lawyer, Reuven Hamburger, declined to testify twice at the appointed time. Hamburger said he might petition the High Court against their ruling.