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Sunday, October 24, 1999 Published at 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK


World: Middle East

US teenager jailed for murder

Sheinbein (left) would have faced a life sentence in the US

A Jewish-American teenager has been sentenced by an Israeli court to 24 years in prison for the brutal murder of an acquaintance two years ago.

Samuel Sheinbein, 19, fled to Israel shortly after the dismembered body of Alfredo Enrique Tello was found in the US state of Maryland in September 1997.

Sheinbein had never lived in Israel but claimed citizenship because his father had been born in 1944 in what was then British-ruled Palestine.

The sentence brings to an end a case that had threatened to sour relations between Israel and its ally, the US, and led some legislators to threaten to cut aid to the Jewish state.

The 24-year term came as no surprise for Sheinbein as his lawyers and the Israeli prosecution had arrived at a plea bargain in August. He will be eligible for parole after 16 years and weekend release after four years.

'Harsh' sentence

State prosecutors in Maryland, where Sheinbein would have faced possible life imprisonment without parole, had earlier called the plea bargain arrangement in Israel an "absolute outrage".

Sheinbein's defence lawyer, David Libai, a former justice minister, said the teenager had "received one of the most harsh sentences ever imposed on a minor convicted of murder in Israel".

Sheinbein stood with his hands behind his back during sentencing and showed no emotion.

Judge Uri Goren said the sentence, which will include the time Sheinbein has already served since 1997, was "meaningful". He ordered Sheinbein to undergo psychiatric treatment while in prison.

Refuge

Sheinbein bludgeoned Alfredo Tello to death on 16 September, 1997, cut up his body with an electric saw and hid the body parts in a nearby garage.

Aaron Needle, who US authorities also believe was involved in the murder, hanged himself while in detention in Maryland.

Sheinbein successfully sought refuge in Israel under a law that prevented the extradition of Israeli citizens to foreign courts, and a court recognised his right to be tried there.

When Israel's attorney-general failed in an attempt to appeal against the decision, the state started proceedings against Sheinbein.

'It's unfair'

Israel's refusal to extradite the teenager outraged US authorities and prompted protests from senior officials.

The dispute was smoothed over when Israel changed its law, which now requires proof of residency before Israelis can claim immunity from extradition.

Prosecutors in the US had said they would not pursue a capital case, but noted nonetheless that Sheinbein would have received a harsher sentence had he been tried there.

Maryland authorities say they will continue to pursue a case against Sheinbein should he ever leave Israel.

Before the sentencing. Sheinbein's mother Victoria said: "It's unfair. It couldn't have happened to a better kid."



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