My forthcoming book Yesterday's Monsters examines the parole hearings of the Manson Family, who have been consistently denied parole for decades. A key issue in the book is the notoriety of the murders and the prevalence of a narrative about them, which I call "the Helter Skelter narrative", that portrays the crimes as bizarre, sui generis occurrences. You'll have to read the book to see how the Board of Parole Hearings handles these cases. For now, since I'm visiting Israel for a few weeks, here are two stories of local "redball criminals" and how their requests for parole and vacation have been handled.
A few words about prison sentences for murder in Israel: Until a recent amendment, the only sentence possible for murder was life in prison. The court did not announce a minimum time like in the U.S. (such as "twenty-five to life"); it merely announced "life". The authority to decide how long "life" lay solely in the hands of the President of Israel--a role he inherited from the British High Commissioner prior to Israeli independence. Life prisoners submitted a request to set the length of their prison sentence, and a special department at the President's office made a recommendation. From then on the sentence would be treated as a finite sentence for release purposes, whose clock starts ticking after the inmate has served two thirds of the sentence; for example, if the President set the sentence at, say, thirty years, the prisoner would come up for parole after twenty years. There's been a recent amendment that Americanizes the scheme of homicide offenses in Israel, but it's not particularly relevant to this post.
Another important note pertains to vacations. Under the Prison Ordinance and relevant regulations, prisoners are eligible for short vacations from prison. These depend on the prisoner's level of dangerousness, the purpose for the vacation (an important family event, such as a funeral or an important birthday), and the time the prisoner has spent behind bars. Some of my lifer clients from the late 1990s have been receiving vacations regularly.
In 1995, as not only Israeli readers know, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by political assassin Yigal Amir. The murder shook the country to the core, and as we all know, irrevocably changed the course of history by derailing the peace process, assisting Netanyahu in ascending to the Prime Minister role, and legitimizing hate campaigns against Israeli Arab citizens, Palestinian residents, and the Israeli left-wing. But closer to the events themselves, there was still some horror and shock about the crime, which led the Knesset to legislate a special personal law, colloquially known as the "Yigal Amir Law": a law that binds the discretion of the parole board in cases of people who murder the Prime Minister for political-ideological reasons. There's only one such person (so far), and the law was specifically tailored to address his particular case. The President may theoretically disregard the Board's legally-mandated "recommendation" not to release Amir, and in these times it's not completely farfetched to imagine a President who might do so, but disincentives abound (the committee is chaired by a Justice of the Israel Supreme Court.)
Interestingly, some members of Meretz, the left-wing, civil-rights political party, abstained from the vote. They explained that creating a special, personal law for just one person was a violation of the principle of legality, no matter who the person was. Others expressed similar trepidation, but thought this was such a rare and unique case that there was no concern about a snowball effect (things have gone so seriously awry in the civil rights arena in Israel to the point that I'm no longer sure this is true.)
Another famous case involved the horrific murder of Asaf Shtierman in 1996, which remained unsolved until 2000. When a woman named Sandrine Ben-David reported severe domestic violence incidents to the police, the investigation revealed that her young husband, Rei Horev, and two young women, Sigalit Heimovitch and Lihi Gluzman, were responsible for the murder. Horev, the main instigator (for psychopathic reasons that are very hard to undestand - Shtierman was a stranger to him), received life in prison, and has been behind bars for nearly twenty years. He is, according to reports, a model prisoner with a clean disciplinary record, entrusted with responsibilities such as working on a computer. When Horev's son with Ben-David turned 13, Horev received a short vacation from prison to attend his Bar Mitzvah (under heavy Prison Authority guard.) However, when Horev's son enlisted in the army, Horev's request for a vacation was denied. The judge who chaired the committee wrote a decision that reminded me a lot of the Californian equivalent Board's vague justifications to keep the Manson Family behind bars: "According to his employers in prison, he is a responsible, essential prisoner, devoted to work, contributing, serious, and meaningful. . . he participates in educational activities and has successfully completed several therapeutic group. His psychological assessment diagnosed a significant tendency to avoid negative feelings, aggressive urges, and to see the world in an overly optimistic way. This mechanism serves him now, but might make things difficult for him when he confronts situations that evoke strong feelings. Despite a high level of insight about his past, he is lacking a deep understanding about the destructive dynamics of his past close relationships, which could be a source of difficulty in the future."
A couple of days ago I posted about convicted rapist-murderer Shlomo Haliwa, who gets out in 2024; Horev, if he receives the customary reduction of a third of his sentence ,gets out in 2025. Who is to say which of these men is or is not dangerous? Anyone who's heard Haliwa on tape explaining to crime documentary producers that he "likes to fuck" and that all his "relationships" were consensual with girls who "wanted them" can conclude that this is not someone who's shown a smidgeon of insight. When he gets out, he will be 75 years old, and is still a strong, healthy man, probably as easily capable of overpowering and coercing a woman as he did in his thirties. Horev, on the other hand, has expressed remorse for his horrific crime; the extent to which he can be believed is debatable.
These cases raise the same difficulties that Yesterday's Monsters raise about the Manson Family inmates. To what extent does the notoriety of a case impact decisions to release? And is it a legitimate consideration? Is it legitimate to factor the public's distaste for a particular murderer in decisions to deny parole or vacations? And is there a proper measure of whether the distaste is justified? Redball crimes matter a lot in creating public policy and fueling the public's imagination about crime, but they also feature real victims and real perpetrators who are, after all, just people.
Yesterday's Monsters comes out early 2020 from UC Press.
 It is, however, relevant to some of my other work: I've been studying American influences on Israeli criminal justice.
Thoughts and News on Criminal Justice and Correctional Policy in California
Monday, July 15, 2019
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Wrongful Conviction Journalism: Lights and Shadows
I've just finished watching the second season of an Israeli documentary series titled Shadow of Truth, which takes on a series of chilling rape-murders that occurred along one of Israel's main highways in the 1970s and 1980s. Hitchhiking was very common at the time, especially among young students and soldiers, and more than ten women met violent deaths along the highway.
The most famous of these cases was the murder of the soldier Rachel Heller, which the police pinned on a young man called Amos Baranes. Baranes was subjected to the third degree (three consecutive sleepless nights, untold violence, a fabricated reconstruction of the murder) and gave a false confession, and fought for his innocence ever since. He was released after eight years amidst grave doubts about his guilt, and later acquitted in a special hearing because of the immense police misconduct.
But Heller's murder was only one among many cases that shared forensic findings about the method of committing the crime. Importantly, at the time, each of these murder cases was investigated separately; the concept of a serial killer arrived fairly late to American criminology as well (famously popularized by FBI agent Robert Ressler, whose story is fictionalized and stylized in Mindhunter) and even later to Israel, where most people would doubt the possibility of such monstrosities happening in a small country with a small population. It was only in the late 1980s that a retired police officer, Ezra Goldberg, theorized that all the murders could be attributed to one perpetrator.
The series points the finger at convicted rapist Shlomo Haliwa, serving a life sentence for one of the murders in the series, the murder of soldier Orly Dubi. It's an attractive theory. Haliwa was convicted of murdering Dubi while on vacation from prison, where he was serving a long sentence for five rapes (American readers may be incredulous that anyone, let alone a dangerous, violent rapist was let out on vacation; Israeli prison sentences allow for vacations, and those were different times. I doubt someone like that would receive a vacation today.) There is some circumstantial, inconclusive-but-disturbing evidence tying him to at least two other murders (including a full confession, albeit one extracted by force by the same team that tortured the false confession out of Baranes.) His prisoner file is missing, so it is impossible to establish whether he was on leave from prison on the nights of some of the murders. He is heard on the series, speaking by phone, threatening the show's producers, which in itself is not evidence of guilt (it is, however, evidence of being a terrifyingly violent, unpleasant, and psychopathic man, and good reason to be concerned about his impending release in 2024; he will be 75 years old, still healthy, tall, and broad, and still a potential danger to women, I suspect.)
I'm torn on whether I find the effort to pin the murders on Haliwa convincing, and arguably journalists should not be tasked with the same care that the criminal justice system should exercise when pointing fingers. But the series made me think about the broader context of these shows. The 1980s and 1990s were characterized by cop-and-prosecutor shows that tended to be on the side of law enforcement. In a "the making of" featurette about Law and Order, the producers plainly admit that the concept of the show was born of the notion that their audience was getting more conservative and more punitive and would be receptive to this messaging. It was only later, in the late 2000s, that we started experiencing the success of wrongful conviction shows like Serial and Making a Murderer. My unsubstantiated suspicion is that these shows emerged at a time in which the public was perceived as losing its appetite for mass incarceration, and gaining more distaste with police violence, prosecutorial corruption, and the system's chronic inability to admit its mistakes (the broader context of recession-era politics probably also plays a part.)
The emergence of shows like this in Israel is understandable. It's not a coincidence that Shadow of Truth focused on the two most famous cases of miscarriage of justice in Israel--the wrongful convictions of Baranes and of Roman Zadorov (who is still in prison doing time for a murder that most people who know what they're talking about are certain he did not commit.) In Israel, too, there's a sense of disgust with police use of force (especially against minorities) and police corruption; as I write this, members of the Ethiopian Israeli community are protesting the police shooting of young Solomon Tekka, expressing frustration and anger for decades of mistreatment by police. Cases of police officers receiving bribes and exacting sexual favors are unfortunately not rare (these developments really echo what's been happening in the American discourse lately.) On a less outrageous basis, Israeli citizens are exposed to rudeness, indifference, and lack of professionalism from police officers on a daily basis, starting with traffic stops (what goes on here echoes the findings of Chuck Epp, Steve Maynard-Moody and Don Haider-Markel in Pulled Over.)
At the end of Shadow of Truth, we are told that the police investigation into the highway murders of the 1970s has been reopened. Similar legal developments happened after Serial and Making a Murderer. That, in itself, is great news from my perspective. I'll take justice over finality any day. The problem is that journalists do not select their topics at random. Documentary series are artworks that seek public viewership, headlines, and ratings. Journalists pick cases that they think will evoke outrage and sympathy: young and attractive victims, heinous violence, and a sympathetic possibly-wrongfully-convicted mark. When a case like this is picked for journalistic attention and sparks a renewed police investigation, how many similar injustices are left in the dark? The history of Israeli law enforcement flaws and corruption raises at least two possibilities for broader examination. For decades, the national Pathological Institute (the equivalent of the coroner's office) was run by Yehuda Hiss, whose corruption and unprofessionalism was mired in scandals ranging from lying to trading organs. Why have we not reopened every single case he meddled with? Also, since we now know that at least two confessions--by Baranes and Haliwa--were extracted using horrifically coercive means by Shaul Marcus, who was at the time a high-ranking police investigator, why are we not reopening every single case that his violent hand might have touched? I worry about the vast number of miscarriages of justice that we miss when journalists shine a light on cases that they choose for celebrity reasons, rather than through systematic investigation. It is not the journalists' job, of course, to conduct such investigations. Which is precisely why we shouldn't be waiting for them to shine the light on injustice for us; the criminal justice system has to do better on its own initiative.
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