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Sheinbein Sentenced to 24 Years

Samuel Sheinbein, AP
Samuel Sheinbein awaits sentencing at the Tel Aviv court, Oct. 24. (AP)
By Dina Kraft
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, October 24, 1999; 1:46 p.m. EDT

TEL AVIV, Israel Calling the murder and dismemberment of a Maryland teen-ager "an act of desecration," an Israeli judge on Sunday ended a lengthy and painful episode in Israel-U.S. relations by sentencing Samuel Sheinbein to 24 years in prison.

Sheinbein, 19, hands behind his back, did not react as the verdict was read two years after he fled to Israel and successfully sought refuge from extradition, enraging Maryland authorities and briefly threatening U.S. aid to the Jewish state.

Judge Uri Goren's sentence was not a surprise; lawyers for Sheinbein and the Israeli prosecution had arrived at the plea bargain in August.

Sheinbein would be eligible for parole after two-thirds of his sentence is served. He may also be eligible for 24-hour furloughs in as soon as four years. The sentence was backdated to Sheinbein's arraignment in 1997.

Under Maryland law, Sheinbein could have drawn a life-sentence without parole. Until now, Israeli minors convicted of murder have never received more than a 20-year sentence.

Sheinbein confessed in September to choking 19-year-old Alfred Tello Jr. with a rope and hitting him several times with a sharp object actions that caused his death. Sheinbein, who was 17 at the time, then dismembered the body with an electric saw and burned it.

Aaron Needle, a friend that Maryland authorities also believe was involved in the murder, killed himself while in detention in Maryland.

Such "shocking acts of desecration to the deceased's body, acts that are too horrendous to describe ... show us to what depths the defendant sank and how inhuman he became at the time," Goren wrote in his sentencing.

Sheinbein fled to Israel within days of the discovery of Tello's remains in an empty garage near Sheinbein's home in Aspen Hill, Md.

Sheinbein successfully sought refuge under a law that prevented the extradition of Israeli citizens to foreign courts. Sheinbein had only passing contact with Israel, but his father, Saul, was born in the country.

A court recognized Sheinbein's right to be tried here, and Israel's attorney general appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court; when that failed, earlier this year, the state started proceedings against him.

Israel's refusal to extradite Sheinbein outraged U.S. authorities and prompted protests from senior officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno. Some congressmen who had otherwise been friendly to Israel threatened to cut aid.

Before the sentencing. Sheinbein's mother, Victoria, choking back tears, told The Associated Press that her son was not the monster described in the court proceedings.

"It's unfair. It couldn't have happened to a better kid," she said before being led away by her husband.

Sheinbein initially pleaded innocent, and the attorney general's staff seeking to avoid a lengthy, costly trial began negotiating a plea bargain.

Goren, presiding over a panel of three judges at Tel Aviv District Court, ordered Sheinbein to undergo psychiatric treatment while in prison. He sentenced Sheinbein as a juvenile but noted that the defendant was close to the age of legal adulthood at the time of the Sept. 16, 1997, murder.

Goren said Sheinbein had clearly manipulated a law designed to prevent handing Jews over to anti-Semitic regimes.

"There is no doubt that (Sheinbein's) entanglement in criminal activity was the sole and immediate factor that motivated his coming to Israel," Goren wrote. The Sheinbein case prompted the Israeli parliament to change the law this year.

Maryland authorities said the double jeopardy rule preventing people from being tried for the same case twice does not apply to those convicted overseas.

"We respect the American court system and we hope they respect ours," prosecutor Hadassa Naor said.

Defense lawyer David Libai, a former justice minister, said the sentencing was just.

"The defendant received one of the most harsh sentences ever imposed on a minor convicted of murder in Israel," he said.

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© 1999 The Associated Press

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