11:35AM IL: A verdict of guilty has been handed down in the manslaughter trial of IDF Sgt. Elor Azariya. The verdict was announced by the IDF military court in the Kirya (Defense Ministry) moments ago. The trial lasted for nine months and over 50 defense witnesses were heard.
In her opening statements, leading justice Colonel Maya Heller stated it was Azariya firing at the terrorist Fatah al-Sharif at close range that killed him, rejecting the main witnesses presented by the defense, including pathologist Prof. Yehuda Hiss, who stated the terrorist was dead before Azariya fired at him. Colonel Heller added that his opening fire at the terrorist was contrary to open-fire orders.
Heller points out that he fired at the terrorist, at close range and there is no controversy surrounding these facts after hearing from all involved. The court determined the terrorist was not killed by the gunfire which neutralized him by the first soldier but by Elor’s gunfire, rejecting the defense’s expert witnesses and their testimony to the contrary. Heller added that Hiss based his testimony on that of Prof. Shimoni and the moment the latter’s testimony was rejected, it invalidated the statements made by Hiss as well.
The court then reviewed all the video footage to determine if Elor felt threatened as he explained to be the case based on his subjective evaluation of the situation. The court however feels this was not the case and he did not feel that he was in life-threatening danger as he later stated to have been the case.
The court rejected statements made by Elor during the trial that his claimed to colleagues immediately following the shooting that it was an “act of revenge”, explaining during his testimony it is not what he meant and his words were taken out of context. The court does not believe he felt a life-threatening danger when he fired at the terrorist as he later reported to be the case.
Heller added “however, the court cannot turn back the clock and really know what went through his head and must rely on the statements made and the testimony given to the court”. His company commander spoke with him immediately following the shooting and T.M. was witness and there was much contradiction between his statements to the commander and other commanders later in the investigation. The statements from the company commander were in line with the videos taken at the scene.
The court finds Elor Azariya guilty of manslaughter as charged. The sentencing hearing will follow in the coming weeks.
The court ruled “he acted out of revenge and this is not self-defense”.
Reading of the verdict continued for over two hours but it became clear relatively early on that the verdict was one of guilty. Hundreds of police are outside the courthouse on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv trying to maintain order as hundreds of protestors try to shut down the major vehicular thoroughfare. Arrests are being made and hundreds of police including Yassam commandos are trying to maintain order. Protestors have succeeded in blocking Kaplan Street for brief periods.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)