Baranes awarded NIS 5m., 34 years after wrongful conviction

‘Finally, my words were heard,’ says 66-year-old, jailed in ’76 for killing female soldier.

Baranes 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Baranes 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A man wrongfully convicted of murder was awarded NIS 5 million in damages by the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday, over thirty years since he was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Amos Baranes, 66, was convicted in 1976 of the murder of 19-year-old soldier Rachel Heller, whose naked body was found on the side of a highway between Ceasariya and Or Akiva earlier that year. A few months after Heller’s body was found, two separate special police investigative teams set up to crack the case hit a dead end.
Baranes was first questioned about the murder after he voluntarily went to police and offered to assist their investigation, saying that he was an acquaintance of Heller’s from the Rutenberg Institute in Haifa. Several months later, after public pressure had forced police to set up a third special investigative team, Baranes was called back in for questioning and eventually confessed to the murder, after he was subjected to a violent interrogation in which he was deprived of sleep for four days and repeatedly struck by police.
In the ruling on Thursday, presiding Judge Magen Altuvia said that during the 1976 trial the court was not aware of evidence that may have helped Baranes’ defense, therefore denying him the right to a fair trial.
Baranes’ compensation includes NIS 4 million for his loss of freedom and social ostracism, NIS 720,000 for damage to his ability to be employed, NIS 144,000 for emotional suffering, and an additional NIS 95,000 for legal expenses.
Eight and a half years after he was sentenced to life in prison, Baranes’ sentence was commuted by then-president Chaim Herzog. Baranes decided to continue the fight to clear his name and sought a full exoneration. A man of principle, Baranes denied all compromises that would have implied an admission of guilt, insisting on nothing less than a retrial to clear his name.
In 2002, Baranes was finally granted a retrial, which ended with the state retracting the murder charge it had filed against him. The 2002 acquittal was the first of its kind in Israel.
“All I can say is that the court accepted my version of the story and understood the depth of the scars that I have for the rest of my life,” Baranes said Thursday.
“For 30 years I was in the garbage of Israel. I wasn’t a citizen, I was a war criminal. My words weren’t heard. Today, they were heard clearly.”
Baranes’ story has fascinated Israelis for decades and was the subject of the 2005 docu-drama Murder for Life. The film covered the murder and the decadeslong legal battle waged by Baranes to clear his name. The movie claims that Baranes’ conviction was the result of conspiracy on the part of police and prosecutors to find a scapegoat for the murder, largely due to public pressure to solve the case.
The state has still never admitted that it erred in the identity of Heller’s murderer, only that the investigation and trial of Baranes were flawed.