Israeli police bungled the investigation. Children's testimony mishandled.
Charges dismissed against couple accused of kidnap, rape of girls
By Tomer Zarchin, Ha'aretz
The state prosecution yesterday withdrew an indictment against an ultra-Orthodox couple charged with kidnapping and raping two girls, aged 6 and 3, citing discrepancies in the girls' testimonies.
A police interrogator decided the complainants' accounts lacked validity even though they had a "factual basis," due to the influence of the girls' families.
Last July, police received complaints that two young girls living in the Jerusalem area had been sexually assaulted by Reuven Weissman, and that his wife Rachel had acted as his accomplice.
"Three days ago I was passing by the [Weissmans'] house when suddenly I saw that man," the 6-year-old told police. "He grabbed me and pulled me into his house. He took me into a room, took off my skirt and underwear and then touched me between the legs."
Meanwhile, the 3-year-old also told police that Reuven, whom she called "the man with the candy," had sexually assaulted her in front of his wife.
The Weissmans, who have no children, were known as a quiet and harmless couple. Soon after the story broke, they became unwelcome in their community. Fliers hung in their neighborhood demanded that they leave immediately, and on one occasion, local residents broke into their house and threatened them.
Defense attorneys sharply criticized how the police interviewed the girls, saying their accounts had been warped by their families' influence. Police child interrogation specialist Keren London particularly came under attack for allowing the younger girl's mother to be present during the questioning of her child.
"I was questioning a 3-year-old, so I brought in her mother to help the girl focus," she said. "I'll admit that the mother was more dominant [during the interrogation] and I take responsibility for letting her in [to the room.]"
Due to the defense's complaints, the child was questioned again by child interrogation specialist Micha Haran last September. During that interview, the child contradicted her previous accounts to police. She told Haran she was laying down when Weissman allegedly molested her, while during her first interrogation she said she was standing up.
The defense also criticized the police for not physically examining the complainants after the alleged rapes, and for taking three months to carry out a reconstruction.
"In my opinion the girl's testimony was tainted by the large number of interrogators, which can be seen in several things she said that are unusual for someone her age, such as, 'They were in it together'," Haran wrote in his report. He also said the girl's description of the room where she was assaulted was inconsistent.
Haran concluded that the girls stories contained "a certain seed of truth upon which the child probably expanded in a way that does not necessarily reflect what happened."
"Children frequently hear things from others that become an inseparable part of their consciousness," said attorney Ariel Atari, who specializes in cases of child sexual abuse. "When they are interrogated it is impossible to tell when they are talking about something factual or something imagined, which is why they may sound perfectly valid even when they are making things up." The state prosecution yesterday defended its original decision to indict the Weissmans, saying it had believed there was enough evidence to convict them, before this evidence was undermined.
"The prosecution received new material that made it change its mind about pursuing this case," it said yesterday. "After much deliberation, we decided not to continue."
[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]