Claims of police cover-up roil dramatic murder trial for girl buried alive

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The defense lawyers for a nurse on trial for the alleged murder of a 17-year-old ex-patient accused prosecutors on Monday of covering up suspicions that police investigators tried to hide exculpatory information.

Edward Kachura was accused in 2021 of the aggravated murder of Lital Yael Melnik, with whom he had an illicit sexual relationship. According to prosecutors, Kachura buried Melnik alive — part of a “rebirth” therapy — telling her that she would use a tube so that she could still breathe. However, once her body and head were covered, he removed the tube and for several minutes prevented Melnik from escaping and breathing, prosecutors say. He then left the site.

Concerns of tampering were raised a few months ago when the head of the police’s mobile laboratory unit told prosecutors that the head of the interrogations division for the police’s Coastal District opposed carrying out an experiment to determine whether Kachura’s defense that Melnik had acted alone in burying herself would hold up.

The experiment was carried out anyway, under the orders of the police investigation division, according to Hebrew media reports that did not name any of the officers involved. As part of the test, a police officer tried to bury himself on his own, as Kachura claimed Melnick had done.

The results of the test supported Kachura’s version, but the Coastal District’s chief interrogator reportedly tried to pressure authorities into striking it from the record. According to prosecutors, the results of the test were nonetheless included in the trial materials that were passed to the defense.

“We were very shocked to hear that a senior officer in the investigating unit tried to hide evidence that supports Edward’s version, that he did not cause the unfortunate death of the late Lital,” defense attorneys said in a statement.

The defense asked the Haifa District Court to suspend testimony until the matter is clarified and requested more investigation material from the prosecution.

“In light of the serious information, we appealed to the court to conduct a comprehensive examination of the affair, to make sure that there is no additional privileged evidence hidden by the investigative unit,” it said.

The State Prosecutor’s Office said an internal police probe was opened into the head interrogator in March, but was kept hidden from the defense team to avoid compromising the investigation. The internal probe was closed after officials heard from the lab chief, and the information was passed to the defense shortly afterwards, the prosecution said in a statement.

“It should be made clear that the test referred to by the head of the laboratory and its results were part of the investigation material that was handed over to the defense at the beginning of the legal proceedings, and was even submitted to the High Court,” the statement said.

Lital Yael Melnik. (Facebook)

Prosecutors say Kachura was involved in Melnik’s treatment at a psychiatric center and then engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with her after her release.

Investigators claim that Kachura, 49 at the time, murdered Melnik on October 2, 2021. Her body was discovered after a security guard called police, saying that he had seen a man and a young woman arriving together at a construction site near his workplace, with the man later leaving alone. Police, arriving at the scene, found the girl’s body half-buried in a freshly dug grave. Prosecutors say she was buried alive.

Israel Police rejected the defense’s accusations as “false and disconnected from reality, which misleads the public and amounts to slandering a competent and professional official.”

It stressed that the internal police probe never became a full-blown investigation into the officer and added that the results of the burial test had actually strengthened the prosecution’s case.

It also accused the defense of trying to win points in the public by spinning the accusations in the media.

Family members of Lital Melnik walk outside the Haifa Magistrate’s Court after a hearing on November 29, 2021. (Alon Nadav/Flash90)

Attorneys for the Melnik family slammed the claims of a cover-up as an attempt to obfuscate the trial.

“Instead of taking responsibility for the abominable murder, Kachura engages in spin after spin, which appear to be taken from Alice in Wonderland,” a statement on behalf of the Melnik family said. “It’s time for Kachura to stop resorting to losing tricks, all aimed at delaying his conviction.”

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