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  Sheinbein Charged in Israel With Murder

By Ramit Plushnick
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 23, 1999; Page B1

From The Post
Samuel Sheinbein appears in a Tel Aviv court Monday , when he was indicted in the slaying of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. (Reuters)

March 22: Final Extradition Effort Fails
Feb. 27: Israel Trial Has Advantages for Sheinbein
March 6: Sheinbein Can't Be Extradited
Nov. 1998: Sheinbein Should Pay Some Price, Father Says
April 1998: Alleged Accomplice Kills Self
Dec. 1997: Slaying Motive a Mystery
Sept. 1997: Slaying Suspect Found in Israel
TEL AVIV, March 22—The Israeli government charged Samuel Sheinbein with murder today, 18 months after the Montgomery County teenager fled to the Jewish state to escape a similar charge in Maryland stemming from a 1997 slaying and dismemberment. The indictment came a day after Israel's final attempt to extradite Sheinbein to stand trial in the United States failed.

In Tel Aviv District Court, State Prosecutor Hadassah Naor charged Sheinbein, 18, with murder with intent to kill -- the equivalent of a first-degree murder charge in America -- of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19. If convicted here, Sheinbein faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. There are no grand juries in Israel; indictments are filed by prosecutors.

The court also ordered Sheinbein held until April 19, when the court will consider whether to detain him until trial.

In a descriptive account of Tello's slaying, prosecutors said the brutality of the killing proves that Sheinbein poses a threat to the public and should not be released from prison.

According to court papers, Sheinbein and alleged accomplice Aaron Needle picked up Tello from the Rockville pet store where he worked and decided to kill him. Needle, who with Sheinbein was charged with first-degree murder in Montgomery County, hanged himself in the detention center last April days before he was to go on trial. Sheinbein remains under indictment in Montgomery County; there is no statute of limitations on murder.

"The accused and Needle cruelly attacked Tello, strangling him with a rope wrapped around his neck, hitting him with a blunt object several times on the head and slashing him several times on the neck and chest with a sharp object with the intent of causing his death," the court documents state.

Prosecutors added that Sheinbein and Needle initially placed Tello's body in the garage of Sheinbein's house, before moving it a day or two later to the garage of an unoccupied house nearby. "In the garage Sheinbein and Needle dismembered Tello's body," cutting off his lower arms and legs with a power saw bought a day earlier, prosecutors said. Afterward, Sheinbein and Needle burned the remaining part of the body, wrapped it in black plastic bags and left the charred torso in plastic garbage bags on the garage floor, according to the documents.

Sheinbein fled to Israel three days after Tello's remains were found in the garage.

Sheinbein, wearing a blue sweat shirt, jeans and running shoes, sat stony-faced in court today, even when television cameramen pushed and shoved to film him. His parents, who have attended almost every hearing since the extradition process began early last year, were not in court today.

David Libai, Sheinbein's attorney and a former Justice minister, said he does not plan to oppose detainment.

"I don't want anyone in Israel to feel like this is a shelter and that he will escape. . . . We want him to stand trial," Libai said.

Although Sheinbein is Jewish, he grew up in the United States, does not speak Hebrew and has few ties to Israel. However, a five-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court ruled last month that Sheinbein could not be extradited to stand trial in Maryland because he inherited Israeli citizenship from his father, and Israel does not extradite its citizens.

After harsh American criticism of the decision, the state made a last-ditch effort to have him extradited and requested that a larger panel of Supreme Court judges consider the question. The court rejected that request Sunday.

Along with the indictment, Naor presented the court with a list of 25 witnesses the state wants called to testify. Twenty-two of the witnesses, including the victim's mother and a large number of police officers, are in the United States, and some may be be deposed there. Israel cannot compel witnesses to travel here for the trial.

Libai said he would review the investigative material before determining how Sheinbein will respond to the indictment. Under Israeli law, there is no simple plea of guilty or not guilty; rather, the defendant may admit to certain allegations and deny others. In the past, Libai has suggested said Sheinbein might admit to the charges but plead "diminished mental capacity" -- similar to the American defense of temporary insanity. That would decrease the costs of the trial, which could require the flying in of witnesses or sending Israeli investigators to the United States.

"It seems that in light of the diplomatic storm and the stormy feelings this case arouses, I cannot imagine the state attorney will give in on any point or that there will be any chance for a plea bargain," Libai said.

Although Naor has submitted the state's list of witnesses, she said it is still unclear how many of them will testify. She said it is too early to estimate the cost of the trial, which she said could last six to nine months. Israel is to assume the cost of trying Sheinbein.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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