Innocent Plea Entered In Slaying Of Seven Arab Workers
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ The 21-year-old Israeli charged with the premeditated murder of seven Palestinian laborers in a burst of automatic rifle fire refused to speak as his trial opened today.
Judge Chaim Steinberg ruled that Ami Popper’s silence amounted to a plea of innocent to charges he gunned down the seven Arabs and wounded 10 others on May 20 outside Tel Aviv.
The massacre led to widespread riots in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank, and 13 other Palestinians were killed by army gunfire in the three days after the mass slaying as soldiers tried to put down the violence.
Before the plea was accepted, Popper’s lawyer, David Ofek, asked to be relieved of the job of defense attorney. He cited in part the young man’s refusal to communicate.
Steinberg rejected Okek’s request and set the next court session for September 5. Ofek later said he would appeal the Tel Aviv District Court judge’s decision to the Supreme Court.
Popper, dressed in a white T-shirt and black shorts, remained silent throughout the one-hour opening session.
The victims of the massacre were among about 50 unarmed Arab workers waiting for day labor jobs in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion.
The charges say Popper was armed with a Galil assault rifle and forced the workers to sit in rows, then stopped a passing vehicle and ordered its occupants to join the others.
″All of a sudden, the accused aimed his weapon in the direction of the workers and started firing incessantly,″ the charges say.
Popper, who is from Rishon Letzion, was arrested shortly after the slayings.
At the time, authorities described Popper as ″deranged″ and distraught over an unhappy love affair.
Ofek later maintained Popper was trying to kill one man among the 50 laborers. He said the intended victim was one of five Arabs who sexually assaulted Popper when he was 12.
Popper’s family first said they had never heard of such an assault, but later said the suspect began to act strangely at the time of the alleged molestation.
Ofek had argued that Popper was unfit to stand trial, but a panel of five psychiatrists found he was able to understand the charges.
In court today, Popper spent most of his time staring at the ceiling during the proceedings before a three-judge panel consisting of Steinberg, David Ben- Ofir and Edmond Levy.
Ofek, who was appointed by the court, said he could not defend Popper because of the youth’s silence and because he was unable to find a psychiatrist willing to perform the further examination of his client he feels is needed.
In rejecting Ofek’s request to be removed from the case, Steinberg promised the court’s aid in finding a psychiatrist willing to examine Popper.