Peres fends off attacks for freeing murderers

Says decision to cut short life sentences of Danny Katz killers was based entirely on legal considerations.

Peres taking seat 298.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Peres taking seat 298.88
(photo credit: GPO)
President Shimon Peres defended his decision Wednesday to cut short the life sentences of the five murderers of teenager Danny Katz, telling critics - including Katz's family - that his decision was based entirely on legal considerations. A statement from Beit Hanassi read: "The president understands the pain of the Katz family, whose son Danny was murdered by evildoers. In accordance with the procedure in effect since the day the country was established, the president is responsible for determining the commutation of a life sentence, and that is after the committee for reviewing life sentences, headed by a judge, submits its detailed recommendations to the Justice Ministry." Peres's comments were in response to claims that his decision was based on political concerns, in an attempt to bring Israeli Arabs into the Kadima-Labor coalition. Earlier Wednesday, Katz's mother blasted the president's decision and bemoaned the lack of importance awarded to life sentences in the state of Israel. "The second Peres becomes president, he rushes to release murderers - five murderers, savages, who killed an innocent boy outside his home. We're getting calls from all over the country. They're all saying, 'Better [former president Moshe] Katsav than someone who frees murderers,'" Mira Katz said. Katz's brother also took to the airwaves to slam the decision, saying that they had heard as far back as two months ago that at least one Arab MK was advocating the fives' release. On Tuesday, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann submitted to Peres his recommendation to reduce the sentence to 25 years, enabling the five to be released later this year. Peres accepted that recommendation shortly after it was submitted. Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who represents the five, said on Wednesday that even murderers are eventually released from prison, and that hopefully the passage of time has a healing effect and "creates a new opportunity for those who have been convicted of murder." Danny Katz was 15 in 1983 when he left his Denya neighborhood house in Haifa and never returned. His body was discovered in a cave not far from Sakhnin four days after his disappearance. The five suspects were first indicted in Haifa District Court in 1984 and charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit a crime and kidnapping with intent to murder. In October 1985, all five - Ahmad Kozli, Samir Hanama, Fathi Guama, Ali Gnaim and Ataf Sabihi were convicted of all the charges against them and sentenced to life plus 27 years in prison each. In the nineties, the five repeatedly requested a retrial, claiming that their confessions were made under physical and psychological pressure. In 1999, then-Supreme Court president Aharon Barak granted the five the long-awaited retrial, but that resulted in a verdict, handed down in 2002, which upheld their previous conviction.