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Sheinbein Strikes Plea Bargain In Israel for Maryland Murder

By Steve Twomey and Steven Gray

Samuel Sheinbein, the Montgomery County, Md., teenager who fled to Israel after the 1997 killing and dismemberment of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., has agreed to plead guilty to murder there and receive a 24-year sentence in an Israeli prison, authorities said Tuesday.

Under the agreement, which a panel of Israeli judges must approve, Sheinbein, 19, could be paroled when he is 33. At the same time, Sheinbein could still be tried for murder in Montgomery County if he ever returns to this country.

The county’s State’s Attorney, Douglas Gansler, who said he played no role in the negotiations between Israeli prosecutors and defense attorneys, announced the agreement Tuesday and called it “an absolute outrage” because Sheinbein could have “spent the rest of his life behind bars” if extradited and convicted of first-degree murder in the United States.

Tello’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but at a news conference in Rockville, Md., Gansler paraphrased a statement in which the family said “justice has not been achieved in this case.”

“Mr. Sheinbein and his family have been able to manipulate the justice system of Israel and the U.S. to escape the justice of serving the life sentence without the possibility of parole,” Gansler quoted the family as saying.

Sheinbein was 17 at the time Tello, 19, was killed and therefore could not be sentenced to death in Maryland even if convicted of first-degree murder.

Israeli officials believe Sheinbein’s recommended sentence would be the stiffest imposed on a minor charged with murder in their country’s 50-year history and would rival those given adults in similar circumstances there, according to a source in the Israel prosecutor’s office.

Even as Gansler called the plea bargain outrageous, he described it as “a good agreement” because “there was always a chance of an acquittal” in Israel, where Sheinbein was scheduled to stand trial in October. “It’s not a complete miscarriage of justice,” Gansler said.

The deal, if approved, might close a nettlesome chapter in U.S.-Israel relations that opened after Sheinbein was arrested in Israel shortly after the 1997 killing and claimed he was a citizen and therefore could not be extradited. Israel’s highest court ultimately agreed that Sheinbein was an Israeli citizen and could not be extradited.