Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Valis Verdict

There has been a lot of angst – even protest over the conviction - and the media reportage - of a young Charedi father for killing his infant son. The conviction was for manslaughter. It happened about two years ago. There was a huge outcry then from many Charedi protestors that accused the Israeli police and secular courts of extreme bias in that case. Indeed as the Jerusalem Post reports:

The young father's 2006 arrest led to days of haredi rioting in Jerusalem, after leaders of the Edah Haredit community - which the Valis family is part of - accused police of concocting a "blood libel."

This is how far the secular authorities are not trusted. They are compared to anti Semitic Czarist Russia at its worst!

The claim by the father was that his confession during lengthy questioning was coerced. The father later recanted his confession. The murder – it was claimed by the prosecution – was via what is known as the ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’. This happens when a baby is shaken so violently that he is severely injured or dies as a result. But early in the trial there was testimony that there was no conclusive evidence that there was any murder. Alternative - more innocent theories about the death were just as reasonable.

But now 2 years later the father has been found guilty of manslaughter. The Judge gave him a six year jail sentence plus a two year suspended sentence. She said she was lenient because there was no malice intended:

The court found that Valis did not intend to kill his son, and that his actions stemmed from recklessness. As such, the court saw fit to exercise leniency despite the severity of the offense.

This young fellow, an Avreich, had until then enjoyed an impeccable reputation among his peers and his mentors. He had a bright future ahead of him. He was supposedly a gentle soul who would not hurt a fly. The verdict - it is therefore thought - was biased. It was an opportunity to bash Charedim by a biased Chiloni court.

It is as though they sincerely believe that there can never be a fair verdict. If a religious Jew is arrested for any reason he is always seen as a victim of secular bias. But that simply cannot always be the case.

We know that there are ‘Frum’ criminals. Just look at all the ‘Frum’ child molesters in our midst. One cannot just automatically assume bias even if one concedes that the secular authorities sometimes do harbor bias against religious Jews. The secular authorities in Israel are not all biased. Not the police and not the courts. Sometimes the accused is just plain guilty.

I realize of course than one must be Dan L’Kaf Zechus – one must judge one’s fellow man favorably. But to do so now after a clear verdict of guilt is to lose all sense of proportion. True - not every verdict is fair. And not every sentence just. Sometimes even in the most just of societies a guilty man goes free and an innocent man is convicted. But it just is not fair to always assume that a Frum innocent Jew will automatically be found guilty. And there is no reason to assume that the secular judge in this case was anything but fair.

But… Charedim still insist there was bias here. Those who know the father know him to be a man of high moral character. They therefore refuse to believe he did it.

But the logic escapes me. People who commit crimes like this one - crimes of passion -come from all walks of life. Many are indeed fine people who would ordinarily not hurt a fly. But given a certain set of circumstances some of those very fine people can - in a moment of extreme distress crack! ...and do something they later regret.

The baby that died in this case had a serious congenital birth defect. The young father – ill equipped to deal with the situation - could have quite easily become so frustrated at the incessant crying of his baby that he finally just lost it! He shook the baby so hard that he killed him. The remorse he felt later was reflected in his confession.

Was the confession coerced? I don’t know. Maybe it was. But it is just as reasonable to assume that it wasn’t. We- the members of the public - do not know since we were not there. We did not see what happened. Nor did we hear the confession or the conditions under which it was obtained. That was left for the courtroom - and for the judge to decide. She believed the father’s confession reflected the truth. There is nothing to say that there was any more bias in this case than in any other – not withstanding the preconceived notions of anti Charedi bias.

I’m not convinced that there was any bias at all.

Let us remember that the leniency that is being called for on the part of the Charedi community is for a man who was convicted of killing his son. How lenient should the courts be for that?

Six years in prison. I think that the verdict was probably just.