Photo Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Pool
Amiram Ben Uliel, the suspect in the Duma arson/murder case, arrives to hear his verdict in court, May 18, 2020.

Last week, Amiram Ben Uliel, 26, received three life sentences for allegedly setting fire in July 2015 to a home in the Arab village of Duma, which resulted in the deaths of the parents of the Dawabshe family and their infant son.

Upon hearing the sentence, his wife called out to the judges, “You are his murderers!”

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The Jewish Press spoke to one of his defense lawyers, Itzik Baum, who said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict. “Once the district court agreed to accept testimony extracted after Amiram had been tortured, I knew what the sentence would be.” Baum said an appeal would be filed with the Supreme Court.

“Amiram later retracted what he told his interrogators during his torture sessions, but his denials weren’t accepted,” Baum said. “Even the information he gave, and upon which he was convicted, differed from the account of the only witness, another child who was in the house and who was questioned immediately after the house burnt down. His descriptions of two settlers don’t match Amiram at all. But the court refused to accept the conflicting account, maintaining that the child’s account could not be considered reliable.”

Asked how Ben Uliel reacted to the news, Baum said, “He has great faith. He is a follower of Breslov, and he looks for the good in everything. I can’t attest to his state of mind during his private moments, but when you are with him, he radiates optimism and trust in His maker.”

Another unnamed Jew, who was a minor at the time, and who was convicted of involvement in the planning of the arson attack, was sentenced to 42 months in prison, of which he has already served 32.

Immediately after the sentencing, leading Religious Zionist rabbis published a letter decrying the murder conviction. The rabbis include Rabbi Haim Drukman, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and Rabbi Elyakim Levanon.

The letter reads: “There is no question, and the court agreed to this, that Amiram’s confession, which is the only evidence against him, was procured through the use of torture. We are concerned that an innocent man could be imprisoned for the rest of his life. This possibility does not let us rest. It is our duty to help as much as we can in the name of justice for Amiram.”

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner explained to The Jewish Press, “According to halacha, a person can only be convicted of a crime if there are witnesses and definite testimony. Convictions cannot be handed down based on a person’s own confession. These are not to be believed, even if they sound reasonable, because personal confessions are liable to be influenced by many factors.

“We have an axiom that a man does not make himself out to be evil, or speak evil of himself. If he does so, it’s presumed that it’s for some kind of gain, and thus his trustworthiness is put into doubt. For example, perhaps he is emotionally or mentally unstable, or perhaps he wants to draw attention to himself or protect some other person, or perhaps he feels peer pressure, or perhaps his interrogators falsely promised him an easy punishment, or perhaps he confessed due to physical or psychological torture….

“Extreme care must be taken in receiving a personal confession…. In addition, in a case where the suspect later denies the truth of his confession, like Amiram Ben Uliel did, this must set off a red light. And in the Duma case, there is a forest of red lights of conflicting testimonies from other witnesses and contradicting evidence, which have all been clearly cited and ignored.

“Furthermore, there have been many instances of a person confessing to a crime and being subsequently convicted, then spending time in prison until the real guilty person was found or until it was discovered that there had been no crime committed at all.

“Considering all of these factors, it could very well be that a grievous mistake was made in the handling of the Duma case, and that a review of the proceedings and further investigation is called for to reveal the truth and save an innocent person from a grave injustice.”

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