Military court to hand down ruling in Azaria trial
Court to determine whether to convict Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot dead a seriously wounded terrorist in Hebron, of manslaughter or of a less grave offense, such as forbidden or negligent use of a firearm; if convicted, he could face several years in prison; defense team say will appeal if convicted.
The military court on Wednesday will hand down its ruling in the trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who faces manslaughter charges after shooting dead a seriously wounded terrorist in Hebron last year.
If Azaria is found guilty of manslaughter, he will be sentenced in about a month and could face several years in prison.
Central Command Chief Justice Col. Maya Heller will read out the verdict at 10am at the special military court at the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The court hearings have so far taken place at the Jaffa military court, but due to explosive nature of the hearing it was moved to the Kirya and will be held under tight security. Azaria's supporters, who have been protesting outside the Jaffa court throughout the trial, will be outside the base's gates and far from the courtroom. Only authorized personnel and the soldier's family members will be allowed into the courtroom.
Azaria entered the courtroom on Wednesday morning to cheers and applause from his family. He was smiling as he hugged relatives and his girlfriend.
The judges might choose to convict the soldier of a less grave offense, such as forbidden or negligent use of a firearm.
The Military Advocate General's Office has been considering asking the court to send Azaria to prison immediately if he is convicted of manslaughter and not wait for the sentencing.
Azaria has spent the nine months of the trial under open detention at his brigade's base near Rosh HaAyin, where he has been doing maintenance work.
Sources close to the soldier who spoke to him in recent days claim he sounds "strong and optimistic and is not showing signs of breaking."
These sources did express concern of the fact that the judges, particularly Judge Heller, have shown little patience towards Azaria and the defense's witnesses during the trial.
Azaria's lawyers, Eyal Beserglick and Ilan Katz, attacked prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weisman and the Chief Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek in a letter to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday, in which they demanded to ensure the IDF's top command has no influence on the trial.
An acquittal could cause a crisis of trust towards the chain of command in the IDF that has been condemning Azaria's actions clearly and in no uncertain terms since the incident.
In the case of conviction, right-wing politicians are expected to call for a lenient sentence.
Meanwhile, Azaria's defense team said they intend to appeal a conviction at the military court of appeals. This could drag the trial out for at least four more months and even longer if another appeal is filed to the Supreme Court.