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Samuel SHEINBEIN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Dismemberment
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 16, 1997
Date of arrest: 12 days after (in Israel)
Date of birth: 1980
Victim profile: Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19
Method of murder: Beating with the butt of a sawed off shotgun
Location: Montgomery County, Maryland, USA
Status: Sentenced to 24 years in prison in Israel on October 24, 1999
 
 

 
 

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Samuel Sheinbein is an American murderer.

In the summer of 1997, Sheinbein and his former classmate at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Aaron Benjamin Needle, killed Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. and then dismembered and attempted to cremate his body in Aspen Hill, Maryland.

When police began to suspect Sheinbein, he fled to New York, and then to Israel with the help of his father, Sol Sheinbein, who held dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. Once in Israel, Samuel Sheinbein was arrested. Both the American and Israeli governments attempted to have him extradited, but the Israeli Supreme Court forbade it and he was tried in Israel. He was sentenced to 24 years in jail, and is eligible for parole in 2013 when he is 33.

The incident sparked major diplomatic, legal, and political issues. United States Representative Bob Livingston threatened to cut American foreign aid to Israel by $50 million if Israel did not extradite Sheinbein. Representative Sonny Callahan threatened to cut the entire $1.2 billion in aid. Indeed, a hold was placed on the interim payment of just over $75 million in October 1997.

Needle later hanged himself in his jail cell. Sol Sheinbein is wanted in the U.S. on a misdemeanor charge of hindering or obstructing a police investigation. Samuel Sheinbein has an outstanding Interpol warrant for his arrest, which would lead to his return to and trial in the United States if he ever left Israel.

Sheinbein was an incoming senior at Kennedy High School and Needle was enrolled at Montgomery College.

The case and the Israeli Supreme Court's refusal to extradite Sheinbein have fed into a number of anti-semetic and anti-zionist conspiracy theories.

The case led to changes to the law in Israel and in Israel's relationship with the United States and others.


Israeli Court Sentences Sheinbein to 24 Years

By Lee Hockstader and Craig Whitlock - The Washington Post

Monday, October 25, 1999

An Israeli court sentenced convicted murderer Samuel Sheinbein to 24 years in prison yesterday, saying the Maryland teenager had displayed "cruelty, wickedness and malice" in killing Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. in Montgomery County two years ago.

"The actual murder, together with the monstrous acts that were committed to the body, show that the sanctity of life and a person's dignity in both life and death are values to which the defendant attaches no significance," said Uri Goren, president of Tel Aviv District Court, reading in Hebrew from the sentencing document.

"In light of his age, and in light of the severity of his actions, the defendant therefore deserves a severe and deterring punishment," Goren said.

Sheinbein will be eligible to apply for furloughs of 24 to 96 hours beginning in 2003 and to apply for parole in 2013, when he is 33. He is also eligible for conjugal visits immediately. There was no immediate decision on where Sheinbein will be imprisoned.

If he had been tried in Maryland, as both Israel and the United States wanted, he would have faced a maximum punishment of life in prison.

The sentence pronounced by the three-judge panel was the same recommended in a plea agreement between Sheinbein's attorneys and Israeli prosecutors last month. Under the agreement, Sheinbein, now 19, confessed to the murder and both sides avoided what would have been a trial of exceptional duration and complexity. But judges were not bound by the recommendation and could have sentenced Sheinbein to a shorter, or longer, prison term.

Tello's family declined to comment yesterday.

The sentencing concludes a two-year legal odyssey that began when Sheinbein, then 17, killed Tello, dismembered his body with a power saw, burned his torso and stashed it in an Aspen Hill garage near Sheinbein's home.

Days later, already a suspect in the killing, Sheinbein fled to Israel with the help of his father, Sol, who holds both U.S. and Israeli citizenship. The incident provoked a diplomatic furor, and in the lengthy court battle that followed, the United States and the Israeli government tried to have Sheinbein extradited to stand trial in Montgomery County, but they were blocked by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Aaron Needle, who was indicted with Sheinbein in Tello's death, committed suicide in the Montgomery County jail on the eve of his trial last year.

Maryland prosecutors said they were disappointed that the Israeli court didn't impose a stiffer sentence and expressed frustration that Sheinbein could be eligible for furloughs and parole while still a relatively young man.

"Any person who slashes another human being, strangles another human being, cuts off their arms and legs, torches the body, flees the country for absolutely no justifiable reason, in our view poses a threat for the rest of their life," said Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

Gansler said he had held out hope that the Israeli judges would ignore the sentence recommended in the plea agreement and hand down a punishment of closer to 30 years in prison, which he said would have been comparable to a life sentence in Israel.

"I thought they would take this opportunity to bridge the gap," he said. "His sentence pales in comparison to what his sentence would have been in this country."

But the Israeli court said: "We did not find that the defendant received any excessive reduction of his punishment in this plea bargain, and possibly he did not receive any reduction at all, since the punishment agreed to by the parties is both significant and appropriate."

Gansler said that the Israeli government had offered to fly one of Tello's relatives to Tel Aviv for the sentencing but that the family declined.

"They continue to be frustrated by Mr. Sheinbein's manipulation of the Israeli and American legal systems," Gansler said.

Grace Rivera-Oven, a longtime Latino activist in Montgomery, said supporters of the Tello family were likewise angered by the outcome.

"The community is very disappointed, and certainly justice was not served," she said. "It's a mockery to our Constitution and our justice system."

But Israeli prosecutors defended the sentence yesterday.

"According to Israel law, this is definitely a severe punishment," prosecutor Hadassah Naor told reporters. "We respect the American court system, and we hope they respect ours."

She said that before Sheinbein is considered for furloughs or parole, Israeli authorities will take into account the severity of his crime, the potential danger he poses to others and his behavior in prison, among other factors.

She also noted that Sheinbein will receive psychological and psychiatric treatment in prison.

Jonathan Strum, who teaches a course on Israeli law at Georgetown University, said chances are slim that Israeli authorities will approve furloughs or parole for Sheinbein as soon as he becomes eligible.

"I think they're very sensitive to this case," Strum said of Israeli authorities. "Personally, I doubt he'll get paroled. If you're the parole board, would you want this guy walking the streets of your country?"

Sheinbein's attorney, former justice minister David Libai, called the outcome "responsible." "The fact that the Israeli court approved [the plea bargain] . . . showed we handled it in a reasonable way," he said.

Libai said Sheinbein's sentence was the most severe ever imposed on an Israeli convicted of committing murder as a minor. The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem said Israeli courts have imposed tougher sentences on Palestinian minors convicted of murdering Israelis.

In one such case, Tel Aviv District Court imposed a sentence of life plus 10 years on two Palestinian teenagers who at 17 knifed to death an Israeli on a bus in Tel Aviv in 1990 and tried to kill other passengers.

Israeli military courts in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have also given harsher sentences to Palestinians convicted of taking part in the murder of Israelis, B'Tselem said.

Although Sheinbein had never been in Israel before, Libai argued successfully to the Israeli Supreme Court that his client was entitled to the protection of citizenship in the Jewish state--and barred from extradition--because his father had long claimed Israeli citizenship.

Since then, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, has changed the law. Under the new law, a defendant seeking to avoid extradition must prove not only Israeli citizenship but also a "residential connection" to the country, which Sheinbein lacked.

The Tel Aviv court ruled Sheinbein's sentence would run from the day of his arrest in Israel, Sept. 28, 1997. He thus has 22 more years to serve on the 24-year sentence. He would be eligible for parole, however, after serving two-thirds of the full sentence, in 2013.

Although Sheinbein's case is now settled, criminal charges are still pending in Maryland against his father.

Sol Sheinbein, a former patent and trademark lawyer for the U.S. government who now lives in Israel and represents U.S. companies there, has been charged with obstructing a police investigation in connection with helping his son flee to Israel.

Because the charge is a misdemeanor, however, he will not be prosecuted unless he returns to the United States.

Gansler said Montgomery prosecutors have explored the possibility of attempting to revoke Sol Sheinbein's law license in the United States He acknowledged, however, that it would be difficult to disbar Sheinbein based on an arrest warrant instead of a conviction.

Before today's sentencing, Sheinbein's parents sat on a rear bench of the courtroom and declined to answer reporters' questions. His mother's eyes welled with tears, and at one point she told her husband to keep his head up.

"It's unfair," she told the Associated Press before the hearing. "It couldn't have happened to a better kid." She was then led away by her husband.


US teenager jailed for murder

BBC News

Sunday, October 24, 1999

A Jewish-American teenager has been sentenced by an Israeli court to 24 years in prison for the brutal murder of an acquaintance two years ago.

Samuel Sheinbein, 19, fled to Israel shortly after the dismembered body of Alfredo Enrique Tello was found in the US state of Maryland in September 1997.

Sheinbein had never lived in Israel but claimed citizenship because his father had been born in 1944 in what was then British-ruled Palestine.

The sentence brings to an end a case that had threatened to sour relations between Israel and its ally, the US, and led some legislators to threaten to cut aid to the Jewish state.

The 24-year term came as no surprise for Sheinbein as his lawyers and the Israeli prosecution had arrived at a plea bargain in August. He will be eligible for parole after 16 years and weekend release after four years.

'Harsh' sentence

State prosecutors in Maryland, where Sheinbein would have faced possible life imprisonment without parole, had earlier called the plea bargain arrangement in Israel an "absolute outrage".

Sheinbein's defence lawyer, David Libai, a former justice minister, said the teenager had "received one of the most harsh sentences ever imposed on a minor convicted of murder in Israel".

Sheinbein stood with his hands behind his back during sentencing and showed no emotion.

Judge Uri Goren said the sentence, which will include the time Sheinbein has already served since 1997, was "meaningful". He ordered Sheinbein to undergo psychiatric treatment while in prison.

Refuge

Sheinbein bludgeoned Alfredo Tello to death on 16 September, 1997, cut up his body with an electric saw and hid the body parts in a nearby garage.

Aaron Needle, who US authorities also believe was involved in the murder, hanged himself while in detention in Maryland.

Sheinbein successfully sought refuge in Israel under a law that prevented the extradition of Israeli citizens to foreign courts, and a court recognised his right to be tried there.

When Israel's attorney-general failed in an attempt to appeal against the decision, the state started proceedings against Sheinbein.

'It's unfair'

Israel's refusal to extradite the teenager outraged US authorities and prompted protests from senior officials.

The dispute was smoothed over when Israel changed its law, which now requires proof of residency before Israelis can claim immunity from extradition.

Prosecutors in the US had said they would not pursue a capital case, but noted nonetheless that Sheinbein would have received a harsher sentence had he been tried there.

Maryland authorities say they will continue to pursue a case against Sheinbein should he ever leave Israel.

Before the sentencing. Sheinbein's mother Victoria said: "It's unfair. It couldn't have happened to a better kid."


Sheinbein's 'Recipe for Murder'

By Katherine Shaver - Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, September 2, 1999

The agreement calls for Samuel Sheinbein to stand before three Israeli judges today and plead guilty to one of Montgomery County's most gruesome slayings, admitting only to 10 brief facts in a legal document written in Hebrew.

Although the teenager's lawyers say he will be sentenced at a later hearing, today's proceeding effectively will close the case without a jury or the public getting a full account of what investigators believe happened before Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr.'s charred and dismembered body was wrapped in trash bags and dumped in a Wheaton garage.

Montgomery County prosecutors, who spent almost two years preparing for what they assumed would someday be a trial, agreed to open their files and give a detailed account of the brutal story beneath the facts that Sheinbein will admit.

Sheinbein's plea, however, may leave unanswered perhaps the biggest question about the case: What prompted two middle-class suburban teenagers to kill a friend (or at least an acquaintance) in such a cruel manner that the real estate agent who discovered the mutilated body in a vacant garage initially thought it was the carcass of a deer?

Eitan Maoz, one of Sheinbein's Israeli lawyers, said yesterday that he still could not comment on the teenagers' reasons, saying only, "Any explanation that will be given should be given to the court, not to the press."

Even John McCarthy, the deputy Montgomery state's attorney who can easily recount the opening argument he will never give, said he might never be sure: "In the annals of Montgomery County, it's about as horrible a case as you get in terms of gruesomeness and what they did to the body. . . . I think they were damaged kids, but I don't know if we have a good explanation."

*****

Tello and Aaron Needle had known each other about a year but began to hang out together more often in the summer of 1997. It was a loose friendship that seemed to benefit both.

Tello, who drove an old beat-up car, liked to drive Needle's gold 1989 Honda Accord around the Silver Spring and Wheaton neighborhoods, where they both lived. Friends told police that Needle thought Tello could get him marijuana or cocaine or at least introduce him to people who could.

Tello, who at 19 was working at a Rockville fish store, once referred to Needle as "friending" for drugs.

Needle, 17, meanwhile, spoke frequently of "my friend, Sam."

Sheinbein, also 17 and a high school senior at the time, had his own problems. A young woman he was friends with--and on whom he had developed a crush--had begun to date someone else. Sheinbein offered a friend $5,000 to kill the young woman's new boyfriend or $1,000 to lure him into a car, where Sheinbein would have altered the locks so his victim couldn't get out, McCarthy said. The friend refused, later telling friends he thought Sheinbein was joking.

Others weren't so sure. One young woman told police that the same teenager Sheinbein allegedly had solicited to commit murder had told her about another conversation with Sheinbein.

Sheinbein had asked, "Do you want to rape a girl?" and then suggested that the other teenager try to twist the inside knob of his bedroom door. It wouldn't open.

"It doesn't open, so she can't get out," Sheinbein told him.

Sheinbein also showed that friend what prosecutors now call his "Recipe for Murder." On a single sheet of notebook paper, was written "Zap, pepper, metal restraints, rainsuits . . . X-acto hobby knife, plastic bags" and other items. It listed the Dujitsu 2000 knife and had a check mark next to "recommended by Consumer Reports."

It also listed size 14 shoes. Sheinbein and Needle both wore about a size 10, McCarthy said.

"If they don't fit, u must acquit," the note said, echoing lawyer Johnnie Cochran's line to the jury about the glove fitting too snuggly on O.J. Simpson's hand.

In September 1997, McCarthy said, while Sheinbein was looking for someone else to kill as "practice" for eliminating his romantic rival, Needle and Tello got into an argument, and Tello punched Needle in front of a fellow Montgomery Community College student on whom Needle had a crush.

Sheinbein wanted a victim, according to prosecutors, and, suddenly, Needle had one for him, McCarthy said.

Hannah Choi, the object of Needle's affections, later told police she met Needle for the first time on Sept. 9, 1997, and he had told her she was the "hottest" woman in their broadcasting class at Montgomery College. She told police that she didn't return his attention.

The next day, she told police, she joined Needle, Tello, and two other women in Needle's car to look for cigarettes.

During the trip, Tello and Needle began to exchange racial slurs about Tello's being Latino and Needle's being Jewish. Suddenly, Tello turned around and punched Needle, then got out of the car and punched him some more. The women giggled.

Needle got "really quiet," Choi told police, and, looking embarrassed, dialed his cell phone. She said he laughed into the phone as if to shrug off the fact that he had just been punched in front of her.

When she asked Needle to whom he was talking, he answered, "My friend, Sam."

On Sept. 16, 1997, Choi told police, she paged Tello. He called back about 4:50 p.m. as he was finishing up work at the fish store. Tello said he had talked to Needle, who had told him that Sheinbein had the house to himself. Sheinbein's parents were out of town, Tello told her, and they could all go over there to drink.

At 6:30 p.m., Tello spoke on his cell phone with one of Choi's friends.

"He said he was with two friends," McCarthy said. "And that he'd meet her at 7 p.m. at the [Plaza] del Mercado," a shopping center in Wheaton.

He never showed.

Tello's co-workers would have testified that both Sheinbein and Needle showed up at the fish store, McCarthy said.

"We have some plans," one of the two told Tello. "We've gotta go now."

McCarthy says he and fellow prosecutor James Trusty don't know for certain when and where Tello was killed.

Sheinbein told his older brother, Robert, that he, Tello and Needle had stopped at a 7-Eleven store in Wheaton. Sheinbein said he and Tello stayed in the car while Needle went inside. When Needle returned, Sheinbein said, Tello tried to rob him, and Sheinbein, protecting his friend, strangled Tello while Needle punched him.

But McCarthy says that's an unlikely scenario. He said Tello probably was disabled or killed sometime before 7 p.m., the time he was supposed to meet his friends. If such an altercation had occurred in the parking lot of a convenience store near one of Montgomery's busiest intersections, someone would have seen it, McCarthy said.

He said Tello was probably disabled with a stun gun and then strangled with a rope while in Needle's Honda, but he apparently was beaten in the head with the butt of a sawed off shotgun and cut on the chest somewhere else. Neither Needle's Honda nor Sheinbein's Pontiac Firebird showed any traces of blood.

There also was relatively little blood found in either the Sheinbein's garage, where prosecutors believe Tello's body was cut up and burned, or in the garage of the vacant home where it was dumped beneath black, plastic Hefty bags.

A police dog specially trained in sniffing out bodies picked up a scent in the Sheinbein's garage and sniffed down the driveway and along a gutter before losing the scent at a drainage ditch, McCarthy said.

McCarthy's theory: Sheinbein and Needle hosed off the garage, and the dog picked up the lingering scent of the blood that would have washed down the driveway, perhaps at night while the neighbors slept.

At 10:15 a.m. on Sept. 19, a real estate agent, checking on a house with a "Sold" sign in front noticed that the front door lock had been tampered with. When he got inside, McCarthy said, a foul stench led straight to the garage.

He drew back the black, plastic garbage bags just enough to catch a glimpse. Montgomery patrol officers responded to a call for a "suspicious situation" in a vacant house.

Police photographs show a blackened form that is difficult to identify as human. Tello's limbs were never found. They were probably dumped in neighbors' garbage cans, McCarthy said.

By 8 that night, McCarthy said, police detectives were sitting in the Sheinbeins' living room, talking to Sol and Victoria Sheinbein about their son and his friend, Aaron Needle. Neither teenager could be located.

Two days later, both surfaced in New York City. They called their parents, saying they were in trouble and needed money to go to Israel, McCarthy said.

Needle's parents got him enough money for an Amtrak ticket to Union Station. Sheinbein's parents and brother, however, drove to Manhattan, met Samuel at an Exxon station and then drove him to John F. Kennedy airport with a plane ticket and a passport.

Needle committed suicide last year, hanging himself in his Montgomery County jail cell on the eve of his trial. Sheinbein, of course, never returned.

Israeli authorities found a two-page note in a Tel Aviv hotel room, where Sheinbein and his brother spent Samuel's last day of freedom. His brother had hired him a prostitute and bought him his first bottle of wine, McCarthy said.

Sheinbein's missive was widely believed to a suicide note. It stated that he had gone "beyond the lengths necessary" to protect himself.

"It's all just a bad coincidence," the note said, "that things turned out as bad as they did."

 

 

 
 
 
 
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