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Rabin's Confessed Killer Swaggers, Smiles in Court; Israeli TV Airs Video of Slaying : Justice: Judge gives defense until Jan. 23 to prepare. He admonishes media and country that Yigal Amir deserves fair trial.

December 20, 1995|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEL AVIV — Wearing a crooked smile and a sweater tied casually over his shoulders, the confessed assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin swaggered into court for the opening of his murder trial on Tuesday as Israelis viewed a televised video of the slaying for the first time.

Yigal Amir, a 25-year-old Jewish law student, appeared satisfied and sometimes gleeful while the presiding judge read the murder and injury charges against him in the assassination of Rabin after a Tel Aviv peace rally Nov. 4. Under heavy guard, the gum-chewing Amir slouched and grinned frequently as if recalling a private joke.

Judge Edmond Levi, head of the three-judge panel hearing the case, asked Amir if he understood the charges against him. The defendant nodded.

Levi granted the request of defense lawyers to delay the trial so they could review the evidence against Amir, and recessed until Jan. 23, when Amir will be asked to enter a plea.

"For three and a half weeks we were not allowed to meet with our client and to this day we still have not seen the investigative material," Mordechai Ofri, one of Amir's two attorneys, told the court.

Asked later what his client will plead, Amir's other attorney, Jonathan Goldberg, said, "I haven't even seen the evidence yet. We have no way to know what we will plead now."

Amir has said he killed Rabin because the prime minister was giving away Jewish land to Palestinians under the 1993 peace accord, and that he was sane and had no regrets. If convicted of murder, Amir faces a life sentence.

Judge Levi initiated the proceedings with an admonition to the Israeli media and the country that Amir deserves a fair trial.

"We have the sensation that the defendant has already been tried. . . . According to the judicial system practiced in Israel, only a court of law is entitled to debate and rule," Levi said.

Live television coverage of the trial was banned to avoid providing Amir with a soapbox for his political views. Nonetheless, after entering the courtroom packed with journalists, Amir shouted, "I just want to say that this whole Avishai Raviv thing is an embarrassment and injustice." He was referring to his friend and alleged informer for Israel's Shin Bet security service who failed to report Amir's plans to kill the prime minister.

Police quickly surrounded Amir and told him to be quiet. He refrained from further comment during the half-hour session.

Amir waved to his parents and sisters in the small, wood-paneled courtroom. Before the trial began, his Orthodox Jewish father rocked in prayer and his mother covered her eyes and quietly recited verse.

Rabin's family was not present, but the slain prime minister's longtime confidant, Eitan Haber, sat with his back to the Amir family, arms folded across his chest and a stony expression on his face.

After the trial recessed, Amir's father, Shlomo, approached Haber to ask for his forgiveness. Haber rebuffed him, and Amir's mother, Geula, dragged her husband away saying that Haber was "a monster."

On Israeli television Tuesday night, the nation viewed about eight minutes of an amateur videotape of Amir stalking Rabin and then firing his weapon at the prime minister's back.

The 30-minute tape of the rally, the parking lot where Amir waited for Rabin and the shooting itself is the only known recording of the murder. It includes nearly two minutes of Amir hanging out by a planter before walking up behind Rabin and shooting.

The video was made by Ronni Kempler, 37, an accountant with the state comptroller's office in Tel Aviv. In an interview with the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Kempler said that as he was filming, "The whole time I had the feeling that something bad would happen. There was anxiety in the air."

Kempler turned the video over to police about a week after the assassination. He sold it on Monday, reportedly for nearly $400,000, to the private television station Channel Two and Yediot Aharonot. On Monday, Israel Radio erroneously identified the photographer as Gershon Shalvinski.

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