The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday sentenced Francois Abutbul to life in prison after finding him guilty of the murder of 18-year-old Ra'anan Levy at the Shefayim nightclub on the night of December 18, 2004. The court acquitted his cousin, Avi Abutbul, of the charge of murder for lack of sufficient evidence, but convicted him of conspiracy to commit a crime and grievous assault. A third suspect, Shai Makhlouf, was acquitted altogether for lack of evidence. The judges, Avraham Tal, Judith Amsterdam and Ruth Levhar-Sharon, wrote that, "Levy did not look for a fight with his attacker, they did not have any struggle, and he did not do anything to endanger Abutbul. "Francois used a knife with a lethal blade, which was not at all necessary for him to defend himself. He stabbed Ra'anan Levy three times and the number of wounds points to the fact that he was persistent in his decision to cause harm." The incident originated in a brawl at the Shefayim nightclub between a group of youths from Rishon Lezion and a group from Netanya, which included Avi Abutbul's brother, Amir. Amir called his brother for help and Avi drove to Shefayim together with Francois Abutbul, Makhlouf and another friend, Assi Ben-David. According to the indictment, the youths from Rishon Lezion walked away from the scene and Levy, along with two friends, followed a few meters behind them. The Abutbuls gave chase and cornered Levy. Francois got out of the car and stabbed him in the heart and the thighs. A key witness against Francois and Avi Abutbul was Avi Abutbul's former girlfriend, Reut Rubin. Abutbul picked up his girlfriend later that night and took her to a nightclub. At four o'clock in the morning, he washed the car that had been used to chase Levy down. Abutbul's family put heavy pressure on Rubin not to testify against her former boyfriend and his cousin, but she did so anyway. Afterwards, Rubin's brother, Zion Rubin, was stabbed, allegedly by Francois Abutbul's brother, Adam. One organized crime expert said the life sentence meted out to Francois Abutbul sends a powerful message to the Israeli underworld. "He [Francois] is a small guy. He's not a major figure. But the decision tells other organizations that courts are taking the struggle [against the underworld] seriously," Prof. Menachem Amir, of the Hebrew University's Criminology Institute, told The Jerusalem Post. Amir was one of the first criminologists to declare the existence of "godfathers" and organized crime in Israel decades ago, during a time when law enforcement and government refused to recognize the phenomenon. He was forced to flee the country for a while after publishing a paper on the inner workings of a crime family. The paper's publication prompted death threats. "Abutbul's lawyers have the right to appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court. And while we don't know what the Supreme Court will decide - even if it cancels the life sentence - the message to these guys will be that the most extreme punishment has been handed down," Amir said. At the same time, the verdict will not "calm them [the underworld] down," Amir added. Referring to prison letters released by police last week - some written by Francois Abutbul - in which conspiracy to murder was discussed, Amir said, "We know that they work from inside prison." Francois Abutbul belongs to the young and careless generation of crime figures who are different from their more cautious predecessors, Amir said. "He's not sophisticated. He's proud, and he's done some terrible boasting," he added. "That's the kind of thing that brought down young Italian mafia figures in New York in the 1980s. They ended up in prison because they decided they ruled everything." Francois is the son of Charlie Abutbul, considered to be a family head within the Abutbul clan. Charlie was shot and seriously wounded by two assassins at a kiosk a few doors away from an Abutbul-owned restaurant in Netanya's industrial zone last year.