Lawyer: Katsav ‘convinced of his innocence,’ will appeal

“We believe that the District Court convicted Katsav based on shaky and unfounded testimony," Zion Amir says in interview with the 'Post.'

Katsav after sentencing_311(r) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Katsav after sentencing_311(r)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A day after the former president was sentenced to seven years in prison, Katsav’s lawyers are already planning their appeal to the Supreme Court. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Katsav’s attorney Zion Amir said the ex-president was convinced of his innocence and would see the case through to the end.
“Katsav will go before the Supreme Court with his head held high, with full conviction of the justness of his claims and with faith that the Supreme Court will lend an ear to his arguments,” said Amir.
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Amir said that in light of the sentencing, and particularly in light of the minority opinion expressed by Judge Judith Shevach, the defense was convinced that there is a possibility that both the sentence and the conviction would be overturned.
“We believe that the District Court convicted Katsav based on shaky and unfounded testimony.
The District Court’s decision to believe the testimony of the complainants over that of Katsav was poor and unsubstantiated,” said Amir. “The conviction verdict was wrong and we will present our arguments to the Supreme Court.”
Katsav was convicted in December of rape, sexual harassment, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
The judges convicted him unanimously and stated that they wholeheartedly accepted the victims’ version of the events over Katsav’s.
When it came to sentencing, however, the decision was not so harmonious. Whereas both Judges George Karra and Miriam Sokolov agreed that Katsav should be sent to seven years in jail, Judge Shevach set the punishment at four years. She argued that the suffering inflicted on Katsav as a result of a vocal media campaign against him justified lessening the sentence.
Haifa University law professor Emanuel Gross, as opposed to Amir, said he thought the chance of the Supreme Court overturning the sentence is slim and the chance of them overturning the verdict is virtually nonexistent.
“Lacking much in the way of physical evidence, the conviction was based on the judges’ overwhelming belief in the victims’ version of the story, after hearing testimony from both sides. When it comes to cases of trust and determining who told the truth, there is a standing practice of the higher court not intervening in the lower court’s decision. The justice system as a rule puts its faith in the judges who heard the testimony firsthand, and I can’t see the Supreme Court breaking from that practice in this case,” said Gross.
“When it comes to the sentencing, however, there is a slightly larger chance that the Supreme Court will reconsider, especially with the minority opinion voiced by Shevach,” said Gross. “There is precedent of the Supreme Court adopting the minority opinion.”
Gross said that sentencing is more of an art than a science, and that judges had much more subjective leeway when it comes to determining punishment.
Both the minority and the majority opinions presented by the judges started from the same point, the maximum punishment for rape – 16 years, he said. The difference was in their estimate of mitigating factors for punishment. Here, too, all the judges agreed that time should be taken off because of the suffering Katsav experienced throughout the trial, only that Judge Shevach gave it more weight.
“If convinced that the injustice that was done to Katsav by the public and the media was significant, the Supreme Court may agree with Shevach and lighten the sentence to four years, or even lower. I personally don’t think they will go any lower than four; but lacking a minimum threshold, anything is theoretically possible,” said Gross.
“As a rule the Supreme Court only changes a verdict if they identify that a severe injustice was done. Normally, they don’t rejudge a case on its merits.”
The women protesters who have accompanied the trial from the beginning in support of Katsav’s victims vowed to continue coming out and expressing their support once the appeal hearings begin.
Miriam Schler, from the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said they had been coming out for four-and-a-half years and would continue to do so in order to help make sure justice was done.
“We will continue to be here along the way, and we will be here for any woman who needs us,” said Schler.
She added that, since Katsav’s conviction, there has been an increase in the number of complaints to the police about rape.
She said the court’s decision to convict Katsav reinstated the public’s lost faith in the legal system.