Editorial: Criticisms in the Rada case

The police has only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its one-sided leaks and paucity of supporting physical evidence.

Any murder is reprehensible. A child’s murder inevitably arouses even greater emotion, and when such a murder occurs in a school – where safety is assumed – it is all the more shocking.
Thus when 13-year-old Tair Rada was found slashed to death in her Katzrin junior high nearly four years ago, the entire country understandably grew alarmed.
The ensuing investigation and trial generated a media feeding-frenzy, replete with alternative theories, second- guessing of police hypotheses and independent investigative ventures by reporters.
After they unanimously convicted handyman Roman Zadorov of the murder on Tuesday, the three Nazareth District Court judges issued caustic criticism of the role of the press in the affair. The media was accused of bias, manipulation, stirring up sensation and controversy, fabricating headlines and grabbing ratings. A harsh charge sheet, indeed.
The court left little doubt. It fully trusted the prosecution’s version and ascribed ostensible uncertainties to doubts sown tendentiously by “irresponsible journalists.”
In fact, however, neither the judicial system, nor the police, nor the press can afford to place themselves above criticism.
SCANDAL-MONGERING isn’t unique to this case, of course, though the nature of the crime contributed to the commotion and the lurid hype. But in this particular instance of “trial-by-the-press,” it wasn’t the defendant who was on the receiving end of what the court all-too-plainly considered to be inordinate and misdirection journalistic attention, but the quality of police work – a field where media criticism has proved thoroughly justified in some recent cases.
The impact of the media on due process is a weighty concern, especially when the reputation of the accused and the right to a fair trial are compromised. Here, certain reporters were focusing on the law-enforcement authorities themselves. Whether this was done with mercenary intent, as the judges opined, is moot.
The ideal of a trial conducted exclusively in court was never practicable and, in many cases, thankfully so.
Back in 1898, journalist Emile Zola exposed the injustice meted out to Alfred Dreyfus via his open-letter “J’accuse” on the front page of the Paris daily L’Aurore.
More recently and locally newspapers were instrumental in helping overturn questionable convictions, like that of Amos Baranes for the 1974 murder of Rahel Heller. Seemingly meddlesome reporters had done a great deal of good by getting on police nerves.
That’s not to say that crass exploitation by the media isn’t objectionable. Unfortunately, however, reality doesn’t provide us with clear, demarcation lines between legitimate defense against injustice and obstruction of justice. An extremely delicate, hard-tomaintain balance is mandated, which demands extra circumspection and self-control by reporters – and more so by responsible editors – in a era when conscientiousness isn’t a commonplace commodity.
Hackneyed as freedom-of-expression catchphrases are, nobody wants a muzzled press. Tarring the media with one brush is counterproductive. Criticism of journalistic conduct must be specific, leveled in real time and with the realization that, particularly nowadays, it’s pointless for law-enforcement to expect a sanitized “interference-free” environment.
BUT IT’s too facile to focus only on the press. The police itself is hardly innocent. It and the prosecution are serially the most egregious of leakers. Often we learn of what went on during interrogations while suspects are still being grilled. In the Rada case, the police has only itself to blame for the prodigious innuendo exacerbated by its one-sided leaks and paucity of supporting physical evidence.
In the final analysis, the buck stops with the police.
In this country, when police investigators deem someone guilty, odds are that person won’t get off: Incredibly, in serious felony trials, our judges accept the police premise 98.9 percent of the time. This puts special onus on policemen and prosecutors to clean up their acts.
Foremost, this should mean less reliance on “confessions.”
In the 2003 kidnap/murder of soldier Oleg Scheichet, the police arrested several Arab youths, actually conducted a “re-enactment” of the crime and was well on the way to securing a full conviction, when the real killers were inadvertently apprehended with the dead soldier’s weapon.
Confessions can be notoriously unreliable. They can be forced – obtained by unacceptable psychological ploys, pressure, entrapment or deceit. Too little weight is unfortunately placed in our system on corroborating physical evidence. Circumstantial evidence, when properly gathered and interpreted, is most trustworthy.
Invariably, though, it entails hard work, rather than “leaning” on suspects.