A man was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Sunday for the brutal murder of a woman in 1993, in a case that frustrated investigators for nearly three decades and was finally solved due to a breakthrough in DNA technology.
Valery Sakovic, 67, admitted to the murder of 27-year-old Vardit Beckerknut from Kiryat Anavim, a kibbutz west of Jerusalem. Her body was found in a forest near Beit Shemesh.
He was sentenced at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court when he signed a plea deal with prosecutors. A sexual offense initially on the charge sheet was removed as part of the agreement.
Sakovic was ordered to pay compensation of NIS 258,000 (approximately $74,500), the maximum fine the court can impose.
However, it was unlikely that he would be able to pay given his financial circumstances. Sakovic was living in a hostel for the homeless at the time of his arrest in 2019.
Beckerknut’s mother Raya told the court on Sunday that Vardit “gave me the happiest day of my life, and also the saddest day.”
“Over the years I learned to put a mask on and go to work — that’s what you have to do in a kibbutz. But it was always with me, I was always choking back tears,” Raya said.
“My husband searched for the killer for years, made connections with all sorts of people, but eventually he fell ill. I do not remember the last time I was happy,” she tearfully told the court.
Prosecutors said Sakovic picked up Beckerknut, a photography student at the Camera Obscura School of Art in Tel Aviv, on November 30, 1993, when she was hitchhiking home. But he deviated onto a dirt track and then into the Eshtaol Forest.
“While in the woods, the defendant punched the deceased’s head, chest and abdomen hard, and sexually assaulted her,” the indictment read. “Later the defendant forcibly strangled the deceased until she was killed.”
Prosecutors said Sakovic then dragged the young woman’s half-naked body about 17 meters to hide her behind a rock. She was found after two days of searches.
Sakovic was arrested in 2019 when a break in the case came from a DNA sample found on Beckerknut’s clothes which was identified using technology not available in the 1990s.
This gave investigators a pool of suspects based on their ethnic origins, which was then cross-checked against a 1993 list of owners of Subaru Legacys — the make and model of car the Beckerknut was seen getting into before she disappeared.
Sakovic appeared on the list of suspects, but at the time was living in Belarus. However, toward the end of 2018 he was deported from Belarus back to Israel for crimes he had committed in the Eastern European country.
Police went to Sakovic’s hostel in Jerusalem and told him they needed to collect a saliva sample for a criminal offense without specifying that he was a suspect in the murder case.
The sample proved to be a match and Sakovic was arrested.
At a custody hearing, the judge noted that “a combination of police efforts and technological development has allowed a breakthrough in the case, and today the reasonable suspicion against the detainee is of a very high standard.”
Sakovic, divorced with two children, immigrated to Israel from Belarus in 1990 and went back and forth between the two countries several times after 1994.