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Confessed Assassin to Undergo Court-Ordered Psychiatric Exam

February 2, 1996

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ In an unusual courtroom twist, a judge on Thursday ordered Yitzhak Rabin’s confessed assassin to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, even though neither the defense nor the prosecution requested it.

During a court screening of an amateur video of the killing, defendant Yigal Amir smiled whenever the camera focused on the gunman and leaned forward intently to watch the dramatic moment the prime minister was gunned down. The grainy video never shows the face of the gunman, who resembles Amir.

Yisrael Gabai, a policeman who escorted Rabin, said he saw Amir holding a gun just after the shooting. Police tackled and handcuffed Amir, and he ``said he shot the prime minister and ... told us not to get all worked up,″ Gabai told the court.

Amir says he shot Rabin to stop the policy of transferring West Bank land to the Palestinians. Many religious Jews view the West Bank as promised to them by God.

Amir maintains he did not necessarily want to kill Rabin, but to paralyze him and remove him from office. That was registered as a plea of not guilty to the murder charges.

The defense has never tried to argue Amir was insane. But neither Amir nor his attorneys objected to Judge Edmond Levy’s request Thursday for a psychiatric evaluation.

If the psychiatric team determines Amir was not sane at the time of the shooting, he could be tried for manslaughter instead of murder. He would then face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison instead of life.

Prosecutor Pnina Guy objected to the request, arguing Amir was mentally functional. She noted the 25-year old former law student has frequently taken charge of his defense, interrogating witnesses while his attorneys stood by.

But Levy maintained the exam was needed to ensure that ``justice is served″ and added he wanted to ensure the trial’s outcome could not be challenged. ``This is not a regular trial,″ Levy said. ``These are unusual circumstances.″

Levy issued a court order for the examination later Thursday. It was not clear when it would take place.

One expert suggested Levy was concerned Amir might be able to get off on a technicality.

``Observers ... are pretty much convinced that the person who committed the crime was caught and there is little defense,″ said Professor Kenneth Mann, a criminal law expert at Tel Aviv University. ``People are becoming obsessed with the technicalities because there is nothing substantive to talk about.″

The prosecution on Thursday also called Ronnie Kempler, a Tel Aviv accountant who videotaped the assassination.

The footage, screened in court, shows Rabin descending stairs from a balcony above the Tel Aviv square where tens of thousands of his supporters had gathered Nov. 4. Kempler focused much of the time on back of the gunman, near Rabin’s waiting car. After Rabin passes by, the gunman is seen falling into step behind the premier, stretching out his right hand and firing three times.

Kempler sold the video to Israel’s Channel 2 TV for $350,000 and it was broadcast nationwide in December.

Defense attorney Jonathan Ray Goldberg asked Kempler on Thursday why he concentrated on the gunman. Kempler replied that he had a premonition something bad would happen. ``I saw chaos and I imagined all kinds of things,″ Kempler said.

Kempler was also cross-examined by two new defense attorneys, Gabi Shahar and Shmuel Flishman. They were appointed by the judge to help Goldberg, an American immigrant who does not have full command of Hebrew.

Two defense attorneys quit this week over Amir’s insistence to turn the trial into a platform for his militant political views.

The new defense team on Thursday asked Levy for a two-month recess to prepare the case. However, Levy said he hoped to wrap up the trial by the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts April 3, and ordered a break of only two weeks.

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