SHARON PRISON, Israel – Israeli special forces raided a prison in central Israel Sunday, killing a notorious prisoner who was serving time for a gruesome murder carried out in the United States.
Police identified the inmate as Samuel Sheinbein, an American who fled to Israel after murdering and dismembering another man in Maryland in 1997 and whose case sparked a high-profile row between the two allies.
Police special forces rushed to this prison in central Israel after Sheinbein stole a weapon and shot three guards, wounding two of them seriously. He then barricaded himself inside the compound where a standoff ensued, with counter-terrorism units dispatched to the scene. The inmate then opened fire again, wounding three more guards, before the forces shot him dead, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Hospital officials said one of the wounded guards was fighting for his life. Police and the Israel prison service have opened investigations into the incident. Sheinbein's lawyers told Israeli TV that their client was under duress and that the Israeli prison service has ignored their warnings.
Sheinbein, 34, was tried in Israel in 1999, two years after he fled to the country and successfully sought refuge from extradition, enraging Maryland authorities and briefly threatening U.S. aid to the Jewish state.
An Israeli court sentenced Sheinbein to 24 years for his slaying and dismemberment of 19-year-old Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. Sheinbein was 17 at the time of the killing and could have faced a life sentence in Maryland. His extradition to Maryland was blocked after a yearlong battle between Israel and the United States over an Israeli law that prohibited it.
Following that embarrassment, Israel changed its laws to allow the extradition of Israeli citizens on condition that they are returned to Israel to serve any sentence imposed.
Sheinbein, of Aspen Hill, Maryland, confessed to strangling Tello with a rope and hitting him several times with a sharp object. Sheinbein then dismembered the body with an electric saw and burned it, authorities said. Another teenager charged in the killing, Aaron Needle, committed suicide while in jail in Maryland.
Sheinbein fled to Israel days after Tello's remains were found in a garage. He successfully sought refuge under a law that prevented the extradition of Israeli citizens to foreign countries. Sheinbein had only passing contact with Israel, but his father, Saul, was born in the country and Sheinbein qualified for Israeli citizenship.
Israel refused to extradite Sheinbein, prompting protests from senior officials, including then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Some congressmen who had otherwise been friendly to Israel threatened to cut aid in response.
Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, who represented Sheinbein in 1997, bemoaned the "terrible tragedy" that befell the families of both the wounded guards and the shooter and challenged the system for how it has handled her client.
"When he was sentenced, he was 17, without a criminal background, a kid from a normal background," she said. "It is hard to understand how after all these years in prison it was not able to help him rehabilitate."
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who tried to extradite Sheinbein back to the U.S. as a state's attorney in the 1990s, said Sheinbein was a troubled young man whose mental health issues continued into adulthood.
Gansler said the timing of Sheinbein's prison outburst was most striking because he was close to serving two-thirds of his sentence and becoming eligible for parole.
"He's on the brink of being released from jail and then he goes on what basically seems to be a suicide rampage," Gansler said. "So this was a young man who was still very troubled, and this ends a very tumultuous life."
Gansler said Sheinbein's death "brings actual closure" to the gruesome Maryland murder case. He expressed sympathy for the families of the Israeli guards, "and hopefully they all survive."