Slaying nets 20 years for former wrestling champion
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(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Sergey Shitznin left elderly money changer to die after beating and robbing him.
The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday sentenced a former Maccabiah Games wrestling champion to 20 years in prison for manslaughter, robbery and extortion.Sergey Shitznin was convicted under a plea bargain in which he admitted to the manslaughter of Ariyeh Gazit in January 2010. The court also ordered him to pay the victim’s widow NIS 150,000 compensation.While the plea bargain did not include any deal over sentencing, the panel of judges ruled to impose the maximum penalty for manslaughter because of the severity of the crime.Shitznin represented Israel in several international wrestling competitions and won a gold medal in the sport in the 1997 Maccabiah Games. During the trial, the court learned how Shitznin descended from sporting glory to the seedy world of violent crime.His victim, Gazit, was left to die from serious head injuries sustained during a brutal, violent and meticulously-plotted robbery that judges Sarah Dotan, Shaul Shohat and Daphna Avniely said brought to mind the acts of ‘ultra-violence’ in Anthony Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. “[Gazit] was left lying in a pool of his own blood and excrement, in utter violation of all human dignity and disregard for his severe vulnerability after the violent blows he received from the defendant,” said Avniely, who added that Shitznin used his martial arts skills to severely beat his elderly victim.The judges noted in their ruling that Shitznin had two distinct personalities. He was a notable sportsman whose friends came to court to testify about his kindness and dedication to coaching others.Shitznin’s other personality, the judges said, was the exact opposite – dark and contemptuous of human life.Police arrested three men in connection with the robbery, all of whom are suspected of terrorizing money changers in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The two others, 25-year-old Rehovot resident Sapir Verton and 25-year-old Shalva Dzidzishvili from Rishon Lezion are suspected of plotting the robbery and are being tried separately.Police are still looking for another man, known only as “Andrei,” a martial arts specialist, whom they suspect of committing the robbery and manslaughter alongside Shitznin.According to the indictment, in December 2009 Verton and Dzidzishvili enlisted Shitznin and Andrei to rob Gazit’s money-changing business, the Alpha Wings Gold and Finance Ltd in Tel Aviv’s new central bus station.In the weeks leading up to the robbery, the indictment charged that Shitznin’s accomplices plotted the details of their crime. They agreed that it should be Shitznin, the wrestling champion, who carried out the robbery, on the grounds of his great strength and agility.While Shitznin used his skills to break and enter the store, the men allegedly planned that “Andrei” would rush inside, beat up Gazit to prevent him calling for help, and steal money held in the store’s safe.As part of the meticulous planning, the indictment alleges, Shitznin and his collaborators conducted surveillance of Gazit’s shop and the area around the bus station.They purchased handcuffs to tie Gazit up, and disposable cellphones so that they would not have to use their own, traceable phones during the crime.However, the carefully planned robbery Shitznin and “Andrei” committed resulted in Gazit’s violent death.Shortly before 8 a.m. on December 17, 2010, the men put their plan into action.Andrei entered the shop first and – exactly as planned – hit Gazit on the head.Together, Andrei and Shitznin handcuffed the injured shop owner, then took a computer mouse cable and used it to strangle him, to make him confess where he kept the keys to the safe.Shitznin and his accomplice then made off with $239,000 in cash and the shop’s security cameras, leaving Gazit unconscious and bleeding on the floor of his shop.The blow to the head Gazit had sustained resulted in serious head injuries. He was found and taken to hospital, but died 11 days later.After the robbery, Shitznin left the country, but by tapping the phones of the other suspects in the case, police investigators learned that he planned to return. Shitznin was arrested on his return.During the trial, the court heard expert testimony from Dr. Razon, the neurosurgeon who treated Gazit after he was rushed to hospital, who described the severity of his injuries.The judges also said they had taken into account the impact statement made by Gazit’s widow. As is standard with criminal trials, the victim’s family are allowed to testify in court regarding how the crime has affected them.Gazit’s widow told the court that her husband was the orphaned son of Holocaust survivors whose death had caused “the breakdown of his entire family.” Gazit had supported his family financially, and after his death his widow was forced to come out of retirement and return to work as a schoolteacher.