Samuel Sheinbein, an American teen-ager who sparked an international extradition battle when he fled to Israel after Maryland authorities linked him to a dismemberment murder, may have escaped American justice, but he has not escaped justice altogether.
On Thursday, nearly two years after he fled the U.S., the 19-year-old fugitive admitted that he murdered Alfredo Tello Jr. as part of a plea bargain arrangement that is expected to culminate in a 24-year jail sentence -- subject to approval by the court. Of that sentence, he must serve at least 16 years.
Just minutes after Sheinbein admitted to killing Tello, a three-judge court convicted him of premeditated murder. The court accepted the plea bargain and put off sentencing to a later date.
Sheinbein's face was expressionless when he was brought into court for the hearing. His hair cropped short, he wore a shirt with yellow and mauve stripes.
At one point, a judge read a clause in the charge sheet that accused Sheinbein of having strangled Tello. The judge asked if he admitted to this. Sheinbein answered Â"yes,Â" using the Hebrew word Â"ken.Â"
The proceedings were held in Hebrew, but translated into English for the defendant.
The plea bargain came as a surprise. Sheinbein had fought to be tried in Israel, where he fled after he was linked to the killing of Tello, also 19. Tello's burned and dismembered body was found in an empty garage near Sheinbein's home in Aspen Hill, Md., on Sept. 18, 1997. Sheinbein went to Israel several days later.
The killing, and afterward Sheinbein's flight to Israel, raised a furor among Maryland's Hispanic organizations and Latino community, which accused prosecutors of negligence in allowing Sheinbein to escape. In Congress, several lawmakers threatened to cut off American aid to Israel unless the teen-ager was returned to face charges.
Sheinbein's alleged accomplice, Aaron Needle, hanged himself in jail, while Sheinbein fled to Israel, where he claims citizenship because his father was born in pre-state Palestine in 1944.
Israel's high court ruled that Sheinbein could not be extradited to the U.S. because of a law which stated that Israeli citizens must be tried in Israeli courts, even for crimes committed in other countries.
"It is an insult to justice that Mr. Sheinbein will be free to walk the streets of Israel under the most likely scenario when he is 33 years of age," Maryland State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said after the plea bargain was announced.
Gansler has speculated that Sheinbein had changed his plea because of a "mountain of evidence" against him.
"We have a bevy of eyewitnesses," Gansler told CBS News. "There is also a recipe for murder which he actually in his handwriting transcribed describing how he was going to commit this murder right down to the very make of the circular saw that he used to dismember the body."
Gansler said Sheinbein an Needle's sole motive was a "thrill kill" to practice for the killing of another one of their acquaintances.
"They picked Mr. Tello because he disrespected Mr. Needle in front of one of Mr. Needle's girlfriends and they said, 'let's go ahead and do our practice murder on him,'" Gansler said. "They dismembered him and torched the body beyond recognition."
Tello's family has blasted the plea bargain. "The Tello family feels that justice has not been achieved in this case, that Mr. Sheinbein and his family have continually manipulated the judicial systems of both Israel and the United States," a family statement said.
Israeli authorities said this would be the heaviest sentence ever imposed on a minor and were angry with the American attorneys for revealing the plea bargain before the trial court accepted it.
Sheinbein's own attorney, former Justice Minister David Libai, said he took the case to underscore the need to change the law that prevents Israelis from being extradited. Ironically, the law has now been changed, but it is not retroactive.
For his role in taking Sheinbein to a "safe harbor from justice" in Israel, Sheinbein's father, who is now living in Israel, will be prosecuted for obstruction of justice if he ever returns to the United States, Gansler has said.