Who Killed Tair Rada?

Inside Israel's true crime obsession.

The case of Tair Rada, a 13-year-old girl who was found with her throat slit in a bathroom stall of her middle school, has riveted Israel almost from the moment she was killed in 2006. The murder took place in broad daylight in Katzrin, a sleepy northern town. After confessing to the crime, a Ukrainian-born man named Roman Zdorov was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. But doubts about his guilt have dogged the case, furnishing material for no fewer than six prime-time investigations and as many books. Last year, a Supreme Court judge granted Zdorov a new trial. Over the past 10 months, 85 witnesses have testified. Most days, the case has dominated the headlines, becoming a "national obsession," as Maariv, the daily newspaper, has put it.

Zdorov is the first high-profile defendant in Israel to have his case transformed by social media. His conviction in 2010 coincided with the rise of Facebook in Israel, resulting in a digital petri dish where speculations and counterspeculations about the murder bloomed. In 2013, three young filmmakers set out to investigate the various theories. Their four-part docuseries, "Shadow of Truth," portrayed Zdorov as the unwitting victim of prosecutorial overreach and offered up an alternative suspect.

Many Israelis credit the series and the outcry it generated with the decision to award Zdorov a new trial. But legal observers have balked. Israel's former state attorney Shai Nitzan has called "Shadow of Truth" and true-crime productions like it an "imminent danger to democracy." He went on: "Criminal trials aren't a reality show, where the public gets to vote by text message. Do we really want to live in a country where a person's life, fate and liberty are decided by media polls?"

A TV documentary upended a murder case and captivated a nation. But its sensational theories might also be distorting justice.

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