Man to be released after retracting confession to 1974 killing

A man who confessed to the brutal 1974 killing of an Israel Defense Forces servicewoman was to be released from custody Monday after he retracted his claim of responsibility for that murder and another decades-old death.

The man, who is in his seventies and lives in the northern Arab town of Rameh, has a history of mental illness, his attorney said in a statement.

His confession last week to killing IDF soldier Rachel Heller, 19, reignited interest in the unsolved murder, which became notorious after another man spent eight years in prison for the crime but was later exonerated due to evidence that supported his innocence.

A gag order was issued on many details of the investigation, including the suspect’s name.

The suspect walked into the Karmiel police station last week and told officers that he had killed Heller as well as another man from his community, Salim Knaan, who was believed to have taken his own life in 1970.

According to Hebrew media reports, on Sunday the suspect took back his confession, which police had doubted anyway due to conflicts between the details he gave and the facts in the cases.

A final assessment of his mental health has not yet been made, and he is to be sent to receive psychiatric treatment.

Last Tuesday the northern district psychiatrist ordered the suspect be admitted to a mental health facility.

Heller’s killing remains unsolved. She was found dead near Kibbutz Sdot Yam in October 1974 with signs of violent abuse on her body. The killing provoked public outrage and demands that police solve the crime.

Two years later Amos Baranes, who was acquainted with Heller and who had offered to help police with the investigation, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.

His sentence was commuted by the president after he had served eight and a half years amid concerns he confessed to the murder while being deprived of sleep for several days and amid harsh treatment by police officers. No other suspects were ever charged in the killing.

Following his release, Baranes spent years fighting to clear his name and in 2002 was granted a retrial but the state withdrew the murder charge against him. In 2010 the Tel Aviv District Court awarded him NIS 5 million for wrongful imprisonment and found that at the time of his 1976 trial the court was unaware of evidence that may have prevented his conviction, thereby denying him a fair trial.

He died in 2011.

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