Jerusalem, Israel - A disciple of accused cult leader Elior Chen was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to shaking, burning and tying up her eight children.
The woman, identified only as M., received a lenient sentence in exchange for testifying against Chen and others.
The abuse was so "horrific" that M. seemed to have been under a spell when she let it take place, said Jerusalem District Court Judge Zvi Segal, adding that it was reminiscent of Nazi atrocities.
"The defendant, the mother of eight minor children, abandoned them completely, leaving them in the hands of Chen and those who did his bidding, as though she were under a spell, without any ability to judge or distinguish between right and wrong," Segal wrote in his ruling. "While she was apparently emotionally cut off from eight people - all of them flesh of her flesh, helpless minors - a horrific scenario that was completely unbelievable was planned and executed in front of her eyes, and she kept silent. The acts committed against the children express a loss of humanity on the part of their perpetrators."
M. pleaded guilty to shaking her children, burning them "like they were cheap kindle," as Segal put it, tying up their hands and feet with rope and plastic ties, and feeding them excrement.
"In any case it appears that the nature of those acts floods us with hard memories from the darkest history of humankind in general and the Jewish people in particular," Segal wrote. He said it was not fitting to call M. a mother, "except in the cold, dry biological sense."
All the same, Segal accepted the plea bargain in part because M. took responsibility for her acts and expressed remorse.
He said he got the impression M. was being honest when she said at the end of her trial that she intends to work hard to restore to herself the title of mother. Segal also took into consideration her testimony against Chen and her children's request that she not receive a harsh sentence.
"The bad past is dead and the good future is starting right now," said one of M.'s lawyers, Reuben Bar-Haim.
The prosecution was also satisfied with the decision.
"The plea bargain sent the defendant to five years in prison, and on the other hand gave expression to the fact that she confessed and shortened the proceedings," said prosecutor Nurit Blobstein. "The defendant's testimony is quite important in the overall evidence against the other suspects."
The child abuse affair was uncovered two years ago, when one of M.'s children was taken to the hospital unconscious. Once the story became public, Chen fled to Brazil, which extradited him back to Israel. He is now on trial at the Jerusalem District Court.
The child, now 6, is still in a coma.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal Wednesday against a Jerusalem District Court decision to appoint a public defender for Chen, in place of attorney Ariel Atari. The controversial decision was made after Atari said he wouldn't cross-examine the witnesses for the prosecution and would not bring any witnesses, saying he did not have enough time to study the case. He said he needed six months to prepare for the trial.
District Court Judge Yoram Noam ruled that Chen did not have effective legal representation. Atari then backtracked and said he would cross-examine witnesses after all, but Noam stuck with his original decision.
The public defender's office appealed the decision, saying a public defender can only be appointed if defendants do not have their own lawyers, and that Chen should not be considered a defendant who has no representation.