Sheinbein Should Pay Some Price, Father Says
By Lee Hockstader
The father of Samuel Sheinbein, the teenager charged with murder in the slaying, dismemberment and burning of another Montgomery County youth last year, says his son should not escape justice even though he fled the United States.
But he portrayed his son, now 18 and in Israeli custody, as a young man in a fragile emotional state who might try to commit suicide if he is extradited to Maryland to stand trial.
"I do not want him to get out of all this without taking responsibility for what he did," said Sol Sheinbein, 54, a Maryland lawyer who is charged with obstructing an investigation by helping his son flee to Israel last year when police were seeking him.
The elder Sheinbein, who spoke in Hebrew to Israeli television Monday, did not contest the allegation that his son is responsible for the slaying of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19, in Wheaton in September 1997. The younger Sheinbein's attorney took a similar tack Sunday before the Israeli Supreme Court, which was hearing arguments on whether Samuel Sheinbein can be extradited.
"I never took an interest in this issue," the circumstances of the murder, Sol Sheinbein said. "I don't know if it was self-defense. I don't know anything about what happened."
Samuel Sheinbein's attorney, former Israeli justice minister David Libai, said in the Sunday hearing that he will mount an insanity defense rather than contest the facts of the case if Sheinbein is tried for murder in Israel.
Both the United States and Israel are seeking Samuel Sheinbein's extradition to Maryland, but he has asserted a claim to Israeli citizenship through his father and is using the claim to fight his transfer to U.S. authorities. Sol Sheinbein, who was born in British-ruled Palestine on what is now Israeli territory, left the country when he was a boy but has an Israeli passport.
Israel does not extradite its citizens.
Under Maryland law, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty for Sheinbein because Tello's death occurred while Sheinbein was a minor.
If convicted in Maryland of first-degree murder, Sheinbein could face a maximum prison term of life without parole. If convicted in Israel, he could face a maximum of life in prison. But after 25 years, life sentences in Israel are routinely commuted to time served, officials said.
Sol Sheinbein's remarks, 14 months after his son arrived in Israel, are among his most extensive to date. Appearing in a television studio, he spoke in clear, unaccented Hebrew, hindered by a slight stutter.
"It's very difficult for us," said Sol Sheinbein, a patent lawyer in Maryland who has been in Israel since shortly after his son fled the United States in September 1997. "This whole year has been hell for us. I keep hoping one day I will get up and it will all be a bad dream."
Tello's charred, limbless corpse was found in the garage of a vacant house near Sheinbein's Aspen Hill home in Wheaton on Sept. 19, 1997.
Aaron Needle, 18, who like Sheinbein was charged with first-degree murder in Tello's death, hanged himself with a bedsheet in his Montgomery County Detention Center cell in April, just before his trial was to begin.
Montgomery police contend that Sol Sheinbein devised an escape plan for his son after detectives approached him looking for Samuel on the day Tello's body was found. He furnished his son with air fare, a passport and a change of clothes, police say.
Sheinbein insists he committed no crime in helping his son to leave the country. "When he arrived in Israel, we didn't know he was wanted at that time," he told Israeli television in Monday's interview. "Our attorney told us we were not committing any crime if we talked to him, and he made these dire threats that he planned to commit suicide if we returned him to the State of Maryland. . . . I sent him to Israel, to his family here in Israel, and I just wanted him to calm down."
There is no indication when the Israeli Supreme Court may rule on Sheinbein's case. The justices, all five of whom are expected to write opinions in the case, could take a month or many months.
The case turns on whether Samuel Sheinbein has Israeli citizenship and whether that protects him from extradition.
A lower-court judge ruled in September that Samuel Sheinbein does have Israeli citizenship but should be extradited nonetheless because he has no intimate ties with the Jewish state. Sheinbein then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Observers who have followed the case say it is pointless to guess at the outcome. At the appeal hearing Sunday, the judges fired questions at attorneys for both sides -- Sheinbein's and the Israeli government's -- focusing on the definitional question of citizenship.
If Sheinbein wins the extradition case and remains in Israel, he will then face criminal charges under Israeli law and criminal justice procedures. Trying him in Israel would involve extraordinary expenses and complications, however.
American police and other official witnesses would likely go to Israel to present evidence against Sheinbein. But other witnesses could not be compelled to travel to Israel to give testimony, so Israeli prosecutors would have to take their testimony in the United States.
Even if Sheinbein's attorney devises an insanity defense, it may rest on the circumstances of the slaying itself, which would require extensive transatlantic travel for witnesses and lawyers. The added expense of a trial in Israel, including interpreters, support staff, hotels and other costs, could amount to millions of dollars, sources said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company