Charging U.S. Teen, Israel Reluctantly Follows Its Own Rules

Fallout from refusal to extradite a U.S. murder suspect may prompt Israel to change its laws

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Hot potato is not the word: Israel on Monday took the unprecedented step of charging an American teenager in a grisly 1997 murder committed in Maryland, after its supreme court denied U.S. attempts to extradite Samuel Sheinbein for trial. The decision was taken under a 1978 law requiring that Israeli citizens be tried in Israel for crimes committed elsewhere. Sheinbein, who fled to Israel after the murder, is a citizen by virtue of his father's birth in Israel. "The supreme court is upholding the law, saying that if it's a bad law, it's up to parliament to change it," says TIME Jerusalem correspondent Eric Silver. "It's very likely the law will be changed after Israel's election, because both the major political parties would have preferred to extradite Sheinbein. Israel has no enthusiasm for this case."

The fallout from the case is sure to accelerate a review of the law. "Unless there's a guilty plea, this is going to be very costly and complicated," says Silver. Israeli prosecutors will have to rely on U.S. law enforcement officials and witnesses to build their case. And Israelis may be wondering why they're taking all this heat on behalf of a Maryland teenager accused of choking and slashing his buddy to death, dismembering the body with a chainsaw and then setting it on fire.