Will top pros­e­cu­tor block con­fronta­tion of main sus­pect in hiker’s death?

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By YONAH JEREMY BOB

The state pros­e­cu­tion is lean­ing to­ward clos­ing its sec­ond in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2014 death of an Amer­i­can hiker with­out ques­tion­ing two key wit­nesses or fully con­fronting the case’s pri­mary sus­pect with in­crim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mony that was first re­vealed by The Jerusalem Post.

The neg­li­gent-homi­cide case is against for­mer of­fi­cials of the now-de­funct Mechi­nat Yeud gap-year pro­gram, in which Jewish high school grad­u­ates from Amer­ica came to Is­rael to study in a yeshiva.

The case cen­ters around the un­ex­plained death of Ariel New­man, 18, a stu­dent from Great Neck, New York, dur­ing a Yeud-run hike in the Judean Desert on Septem­ber 10, 2014.

The stu­dent’s par­ents, Mark and Ellen New­man, ob­tained a med­i­cal re­port that cited the cause of death as ex­er­tional heat stroke and de­hy­dra­tion.

At the start, po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors were slow to open an in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion and only did so af­ter the New­man fam­ily’s lawyer Amos Fried in­ter­vened and met with Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ayelet Shaked.

In the first round of in­ves­ti­ga­tion, po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors closed the case with­out mak­ing any ef­fort to in­ter­view the two key wit­nesses.

They also failed to fully con­front the main sus­pect, tour guide Josh Et­tinger, with the wit­nesses’ in­crim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mony – though he was con­fronted with vague, gen­eral al­le­ga­tions.

The New­man fam­ily then asked the state pros­e­cu­tion Ap­peals Di­vi­sion to re­view the South­ern District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice de­ci­sion to close the case, af­ter writ­ten tes­ti­monies were ob­tained from two for­mer stu­dents who were on the hike with New­man.

On July 18, fol­low­ing a se­ries of ex­posés by the Post, Deputy Chief Pros­e­cu­tor for Crim­i­nal Af­fairs Shlomo (Mumi) Lem­berger, took the highly un­usual step of or­der­ing the

po­lice to re­open their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into New­man’s death.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions are rarely re­opened once the orig­i­nal pros­e­cu­tor on the case has closed the file for in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence. The dra­matic de­vel­op­ment came af­ter the Post re­vealed the pow­er­ful con­tent of the two key wit­nesses’ tes­ti­mony and that the po­lice failed to in­ter­view them.

One of the wit­nesses, Ross Abram­son, came for­ward af­ter read­ing the Post’s Fe­bru­ary 26, 2016, ex­posé. He said that Et­tinger pressed New­man into con­tin­u­ing the hike de­spite his plead­ing, “I feel like I’m go­ing to die.”

An email re­ceived by the Post on be­half of Et­tinger has at­tacked one of the key wit­nesses as be­ing pressed by his fam­ily to go af­ter Et­tinger and Yeud as part of an un­re­lated fi­nan­cial dis­pute with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. That wit­ness has not re­sponded to Abram­son’s al­le­ga­tions.

From a copy of the case files ob­tained by the Post, Et­tinger’s ex­pla­na­tion, in light of the new tes­ti­mony by Abram­son, would be key to un­der­stand­ing whether there are grounds to press charges against him or against any of Yeud’s other for­mer em­ploy­ees.

In 2015, Et­tinger told po­lice that New­man did not com­plain to him at all dur­ing the hike. Tes­ti­monies of the other two wit­nesses ob­tained by the Post, how­ever, claim that New­man screamed at Et­tinger and pleaded with him to let him stop hik­ing.

In some ways, the re­open­ing of the case was a ma­jor turn­ing point. The po­lice brought in an en­tirely new, higher-rank­ing team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors to dig into the case more se­ri­ously.

The Post has learned that the po­lice’s Negev Com­mand chief Natan Bonza and his top staff met with at­tor­ney Fried and the New­man fam­ily on Au­gust 13. Fur­ther, the New­mans be­lieved that these of­fi­cials fi­nally “got” the case and un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the two wit­nesses, whom the orig­i­nal lower-ranked po­lice team had ig­nored.

In fact, the Post was told by Fried that po­lice of­fi­cials Guy Kater and Anat Dimri had re­quested to in­ter­view the two wit­nesses, but that their re­quests were de­nied by the pros­e­cu­tion.

Sources in law en­force­ment close to the case de­nied this nar­ra­tive, call­ing it mis­lead­ing and point­ing out that many oth­ers on the hike did not in­crim­i­nate Et­tinger. But the pros­e­cu­tion has not given a pub­lic ex­pla­na­tion re­gard­ing the fail­ure to ques­tion the wit­nesses and con­front Et­tinger with their tes­ti­mony.

Re­spond­ing to the non-pub­lic de­nial, Fried de­scribed in de­tail what Kater and Dimri told him.

He said that on Septem­ber 18, he con­tacted Dimri for an up­date and that she said her de­tec­tive was pre­sent­ing their find­ings to the pros­e­cu­tion.

Fried asked how the po­lice could present those find­ings if they still had not con­tacted the two key wit­nesses.

He said Dimri replied that the po­lice get in­struc­tions from the pros­e­cu­tion and would have more of an up­date the next day.

On Septem­ber 19, he called Dimri again and she told him that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was com­pleted.

He said he asked her if this meant that the pros­e­cu­tion had no in­ten­tion of ques­tion­ing the two key wit­nesses. She con­firmed his sus­pi­cions.

On Septem­ber 24, Fried con­tacted Kater and asked him if the po­lice had re­quested to in­ves­ti­gate the two key wit­nesses in the US. He con­firmed that as ac­cu­rate.

He asked Kater if the po­lice had re­quested to con­duct an over­seas in­ves­ti­ga­tion but had their re­quest de­nied by the pros­e­cu­tion. Kater again con­firmed and ex­plained that the pros­e­cu­tion has power over the po­lice.

On Septem­ber 27, in a let­ter ob­tained by the Post, Pros­e­cu­tion Ap­peals Depart­ment head Sharon Edri, tak­ing the lead on the case on be­half of Lem­berger, in­formed Fried that the pros­e­cu­tion was lean­ing to­ward clos­ing the case again.

While law en­force­ment had taken a few new in­ves­ti­ga­tory ac­tions, they still failed to ques­tion the two key wit­nesses or to con­front Et­tinger with their in­crim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mony.

Fried said that some­thing did not seem right. He said that if the pros­e­cu­tion was op­posed to prose­cut­ing the case be­cause it did not want to go through all of the bother of in­ter­view­ing the two key wit­nesses over­seas over the death of one Amer­i­can on a hike, “I would have ex­pected them never to re­open the case.”

“Once they re­opened the case, the pri­mary rea­son would have been to ques­tion the two wit­nesses,” Fried said. “Re­open­ing the case, ap­point­ing a new and se­ri­ous group of po­lice and then re­fus­ing that po­lice team’s re­quest to ques­tion the key wit­nesses is dis­ap­point­ing and dis­turb­ing.”

Fried and the New­mans al­lege that if the hiker was an Is­raeli, the po­lice would have ques­tioned all key wit­nesses in a timely man­ner and fully con­fronted Et­tinger with all al­le­ga­tions.

The New­man’s are not yet at the end of the line.

Lem­berger will still be hold­ing an in-per­son hear­ing on De­cem­ber 10 with Fried to give him a last chance to plead the New­man’s case.

This will also give Lem­berger a last op­por­tu­nity to or­der the po­lice to fully con­front Et­tinger with the ac­cu­sa­tions against him.

A Jus­tice Min­istry spokes­woman re­sponded to the new­est al­le­ga­tions about again clos­ing the case and the fail­ure to un­der­take cer­tain in­ves­ti­ga­tory ac­tions by say­ing, “We wish to join with the fam­ily in its time of great sor­row. With­out ad­dress­ing the sub­stance of the case, we note that it was thor­oughly re­viewed, and a third round of sup­ple­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing un­der­taken.”

The spokes­woman was then pressed on whether the third round of in­ves­ti­ga­tory ac­tions – only an­nounced late Sun­day af­ter the min­istry was told the Post was fil­ing this story – in­cluded ques­tion­ing the two key wit­nesses or con­fronting Et­tinger with their tes­ti­mony.

She cited the case’s on­go­ing na­ture as pre­vent­ing her from an­swer­ing. •



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