Ukrainian in Israel served 16 years for a murder he did not commit
As a result of a court ruling in perhaps the most famous murder case in Israeli history, Roman Zadorov was acquitted of the murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl in 2006. The decision came in a retrial that overturned previous convictions that saw him serve more than a decade behind bars after being sentenced to life in prison. Read more about this story told the publication The Times of Israel.
The horrific murder of Tair Rada in a school toilet in the town of Katzrin, in the north of the country, has long been the subject of intense discussion on the Internet and in the media. Many believe that the 45-year-old Zadorov did not commit the murder, he was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence, while ignoring evidence indicating the presence of another person at the scene. There are those who are convinced that the evidence, although incomplete, leaves no doubt about his guilt.
The Rada family, long accused of convicting the wrong person, waged a multi-year public campaign that unearthed new evidence and announced a retrial in 2021, after which Zadorov was released under house arrest. The verdict, handed down on March 30, was broadcast live and caused many strong reactions.
A panel of three judges of the Nazareth District Court announced the decision with a score of 2: 1 on the acquittal of Zadorov, who as a result burst into tears and said: “The truth has triumphed. I'm happy. I was chained to my house; now I will take my children for a walk.”
Judges Asher Kula and Danny Sarfati acquitted Zadorov, while the third judge, Tammar Nissim Shai, found him guilty. The verdict takes about 700 pages.
The prosecutor in the case said her team would review the verdict and then decide whether to appeal the acquittal to the Supreme Court.
Rada was found dead in a toilet cubicle at her school in Katzrin in the Golan Heights in December 2006, with cuts to her neck, stab wounds all over her body and severe blows to her head.
Shortly after the death of the schoolgirl, Zadorov, a Ukrainian citizen who temporarily worked as a janitor at the school, was arrested and charged with murder.
Two weeks after his arrest, police announced that Zadorov had confessed to killing Rada and staged the attack for investigators. But a day later, Zadorov's lawyer said that his client retracted his testimony, explaining that his confession and staging were made under duress and contained incorrect information.
In 2010, almost four years after his arrest, the Nazareth District Court sentenced Zadorov to life in prison. The verdict was upheld twice by the Supreme Court after separate appeals.
His lawyers, along with thousands of high-profile members of the public, insist that Zadorov was framed for an act he did not commit, and that the real killer was a woman named Olya Kravchenko, whose then-boyfriend Adir Khabani told years later that she confessed to him about the murder.
Following DNA analysis by investigators, the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute announced in 2018 that the hair found on Rada's body did not belong to Zadorov, but could be a match to Khabani (among thousands of possible matches), sparking again murder rumors.
In 2019, Zadorov’s lawyer, Yarom Halevi, filed a motion with the Supreme Court to hold a trial, stating that there was “a lot of new evidence that unequivocally proves that Zadorov did not kill the girl and could not have killed.”
Reading out his decision, Judge Kula said there were "substantial concerns that Zadorov's confession was false." He criticized prosecutors saying that they “failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that his confession was consistent with the findings at the scene. He is not a sadist or a pedophile and is not prone to uncontrolled violent outbursts."
Judge Sarfati ruled that Zadorov was under "strong pressure, he faces a life sentence, which convinced him that he should confess."
“Why would a defendant kill a girl in his workplace and leave a bag full of evidence? How did he leave the scene bleeding, and there are no witnesses who saw him? How were his soles not stained with blood? How can one come to a guilty conclusion with all these questions? He must be justified,” he concluded.
Judge Nissim Shai made sharply contradictory remarks highlighting the complexity of the case even among seasoned lawyers who have studied the same evidence and heard the same testimony.
“Zadorov is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt,” she said. “His confession is detailed, and it was not given out of fear.”
In his newer testimony, Shai ruled, Zadorov “ignored his previous versions. His new versions are lies. He confirmed that he had lied to the previous panel of judges." She said that the defendant knew a number of facts that only the murderer could know.
While acknowledging that the body of evidence and the investigative work were "flawed", she concluded that "not every issue, when considered, is the basis for an acquittal".
None of the judges indicated that a serious case had been initiated against Kravchenko, and at the end of the verdict, Judge Kula turned to Ilana Rada, the mother of the deceased;
"We tried to unravel the mystery, but it is possible that Tair took her secret with her to the grave."
A few minutes later, speaking to reporters, Ilana Rada rejected this comment.
“It's not over yet. Taira didn't take that secret with her,” she said in tears. “She was brutally murdered. I will not leave it just like that, I will not calm down. I will find the killers."
“Finally, after 16 years of lying, justice has prevailed,” she said welcoming the decision. “The war is just beginning.”
“Israeli prosecutors killed my daughter,” she added, echoing her past allegations that poor investigative work and the alleged setup of Zadorov amounted to the second murder of her daughter.
Politicians reacted to this decision. Many of them highlighted the failures of public prosecutors during the 16-year saga and linked it to the current government's divisive attempt to radically overhaul the judiciary.
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“The connection between the Zadorov trial and the fixing of the justice system is huge,” said Religious Zionist MP Simcha Rothman.
He argued that extensive attempts to determine which of Zadorov's accounts were correct and whether his initial confession was given under duress underscored the undue weight given to the judge's definition of "reasonableness" - a clause used this year by the High Court to annul the appointment of Shas leader Arye. Deri minister.
Likud MP Ariel Kallner wrote on Twitter: "Zadorov's acquittal combines many injustices from a system that lacks checks and balances and includes selective enforcement, witness blackmail and more."
Likud Knesset member Talley Gotliv called for an end to accusations based on suspects' confessions.
Opposition Yisrael Beytenu MP Yulia Malinovskaya said the rehabilitation shows "how much we need a real reform of the justice system and law enforcement in Israel, and not a coup d'état that the government is trying to carry out in its own interests."
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