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Israel Tries 2 Men in Killings of Montecito Couple : Crime: Santa Barbara detectives enlist the aid of Israeli police to build case. It is the first time that that nation has put its citizens on trial for a crime in U.S.

November 23, 1990|MILES CORWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA — The couple was shot to death in their sleep at their estate in Montecito. The two leading suspects and a key witness had moved to Israel. The investigators and all the files in the case were in Santa Barbara.

Sheriff's detectives had spent almost two years trying to determine who killed Jack and Carmen Hively, and now the biggest stumbling block in the case was geography.

While lawyers and diplomats from the two countries wrangled about the legality of conducting interviews in Israel, local sheriff's investigators and detectives from the Israeli National Police began discussing the case by phone. The Israeli police eventually became so intrigued by the killings that they bypassed bureaucratic channels and obtained permission for Santa Barbara investigators to come to Israel.

And in a highly unusual arrangement, detectives from both countries worked together in Israel during the next few months to build a case against the two suspects. Their joint investigation was so successful that the suspects were arrested and are now on trial in Tel Aviv for the killings.

The case marks the first time Israeli citizens have stood trial in Israel for crimes committed in the United States. Israeli law forbids extradition of Israeli citizens for trial elsewhere.

"If we'd left this to the bureaucrats, these two guys wouldn't be on trial right now," said Santa Barbara Sheriff's Detective Edward Skehan, lead investigator on the case. "We basically had our cops talking with their cops . . . and we got things done."

Skehan recently left for Israel, for the fourth time, to aid Israeli prosecutors. And Santa Barbara Dist. Atty. Thomas Sneddon, who helped the Israelis build the case against the two suspects, also is in Israel, as a trial consultant to the Tel Aviv district attorney.

The Israelis, Tel Aviv prosecutors claim, were hired to kill the Montecito couple by Carmen Hively's son-in-law so that he and his wife, Hively's daughter, would inherit a large portion of the multimillion-dollar estate. The couple fled to Canada after the Israelis were arrested, but Santa Barbara prosecutors hope that the current trial will reveal enough information to connect them to the killings so they can eventually be tried in the United States. No charges have been filed against them.

Because Israel does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, it is critical that it tries citizens when it is proved that they have committed crimes in other countries, said Santa Barbara Assistant Dist. Atty. Patrick McKinley.

"Israel doesn't want the reputation of a country that's a haven for criminals," McKinley said. "If a country doesn't allow extradition, then they're going to have to be willing put their citizens on trial."

Santa Barbara investigators initially were concerned that Israeli police would not cooperate because they might feel protective of their own citizens. But a double murder will pique the interest of any police officer, whether he is from Tel Aviv or Santa Barbara. So Israeli police enthusiastically pursued the case, Skehan said. They authorized wire taps early on; they committed a number of detectives to the investigation; they spent countless hours learning about the case from Santa Barbara investigators.

But the legal wrangling continued as judicial authorities from both countries debated whether there was enough evidence to arrest the suspects and then whether there was enough evidence to try them. During this time the police from the two countries ignored the bureaucratic dispute. They simply worked together night and day-- sharing investigative techniques, interviewing suspects together, analyzing wiretaps--until the case they had built was so compelling that authorities had to arrest the two suspects and bring them to trial.

Jack and Carmen Hively lived on a $1.2-million estate in the foothills of Montecito with a sweeping view of the mountains and the ocean. Carmen, 67, provided the money for their lavish lifestyle--she was the wealthy widow of a businessman who once owned Yankee Stadium and the Kansas City baseball franchise, now the Oakland Athletics. Jack, 11 years her junior, a handsome pharmaceutical salesman who retired a few years after their marriage, was her fourth husband.

When they were shot to death with a .22-caliber pistol in October, 1987, sheriff's detectives immediately discounted robbery as a motive because neither Carmen's jewelry nor large amounts of cash were taken. Detectives soon began investigating a number of potential suspects. But as the investigation dragged on, and one person after another was cleared, detectives continued to suspect one man-- Charles LeGros, Carmen Hively's son-in-law.

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