WASHINGTON (AP) _ The long arm of American law isn’t long enough to reach Samuel Sheinbein.
Despite a 35-year-old extradition treaty with Israel, authorities cannot prosecute the U.S.-born teen-ager who fled to his father’s homeland last week after being accused of killing, burning and dismembering another teen-ager.
Legal experts say fleeing the U.S. judicial system to be tried in another country, rather than the more-traditional flight to avoid prosecution, can work to a defendant’s advantage.
Unless Sheinbein, 17, of Wheaton, Md., returns voluntarily or Israel gives him up, U.S. authorities have little choice but to cooperate in his prosecution abroad.
Israel says Sheinbein is a citizen because his father, Shlomo, is a citizen _ even though the son has not lived in Israel. And it says its citizens have the right to be tried in Israel, no matter where they are accused.
Secretary of State Madeliene Albright raised a question about the father’s Israeli citizenship today and said the State Department is still working with the Justice Department on ``how to sort this out.″
``I think there’s a real question as to whether the father is really an Israeli citizen, and this is clearly a crime committed in the United States,″ Albright said on NBC’s ``Today″ show, without elaboration. ``We’re working with the Justice Department and I hope we’ll be able to sort this out soon.″
Several other countries have laws similar to Israel’s, but they are rarely applied to crimes by suspects who have been U.S. citizens all their lives. U.S. law generally requires trial in the territory where a crime is committed, here or abroad.
Sheinbein and a second youth, Aaron B. Needle, also 17, are charged with murdering Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19, whose burned and dismembered body was found Sept. 18 in Montgomery County, Md., a Washington suburb. Sheinbein fled to Israel last week.
The suspect’s Israeli lawyer, Nitzana Lietner, said the killing was committed in self-defense and the teen might waive his right to be tried in Israel if he is offered a deal by Maryland prosecutors.
``If Maryland comes to us with better conditions then we will consider it,″ she said in an interview. But Lietner said that for the moment, Sheinbein was not fighting Israel’s decision to prosecute him here.
``The idea that he will be tried in Israel looks OK to us,″ she said.
But in Congress and in Montgomery County, authorities are trying to get the case back.
``It’s a gruesome murder in this county and it’s a real shock to the community to have someone murdered and then dismembered the way this victim was,″ county Executive Douglas Duncan said.
As concern was raised with members of Congress, the strongest protest came from the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La. On Tuesday he threatened to review Israel’s $3 billion in U.S. aid if Sheinbein isn’t returned.
Livingston called Israel’s refusal to extradite Sheinbein ``an outrage″ and urged Albright to intervene.
Even though Sheinbein may be persuaded to return here, there may be good reason for him to stay in Israel. His lawyer says the jails there are more humane, and legal experts point to other advantages.
``Our sanctions are horrific,″ said Yale University law professor John Langheim, an expert in comparative judicial systems.
``Our prisons are horrible. We have capital punishment. Civilized countries don’t have it,″ Langheim said in a telephone interview from London.
He noted, however, that Sheinbein couldn’t face capital punishment in the United States since he is a minor and that the advantage of being tried in Israel holds only for defendants likely to be found guilty, because the U.S. system allows more ways to beat a charge.
Ira Robbins, law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, said Sheinbein faces a possibly lighter sentence in Israel and the likelihood of earlier parole.