ADDRESSING the jury in the Malka Leifer case at the County Court of Victoria, defence barrister Ian Hill has urged it to find the former Adass Israel School principal not guilty of 27 charges relating to sexual abuse.
Completing his summation to the jury, Hill asked jurors “to abandon any thoughts of sympathy, prejudice, or bias to any party in this case” and consider that the evidence of the three complainants against Leifer has been based on “false imaginations and false memories”.
Hill’s address to the jury followed an address by Crown prosecutor Justin Lewis, who told jurors they have “more than enough evidence to convict”.
On Tuesday, acting Chief Judge Meryl Sexton adjourned the trial to this coming Monday, after Judge Mark Gamble, who had heard both barristers’ closing arguments in full, tested positive for COVID, with jurors being offered rapid antigen tests.
Leifer, 56, an Israeli who is a former Adass Israel school principal, and a mother of eight, faces charges including rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17 under her care or supervision.
She has pleaded not guilty to all charges relating to the three complainants, sisters Elly Sapper, Nicole Meyer and Dassi Erlich.
Hill told jurors that “as we go from one witness to another, to another, you can see that what you may have thought is not necessarily the case. And you are here to judge credibility and reliability … use your common sense and experience of life”.
Emphasising the jury’s need “for proof beyond reasonable doubt, not probabilities, not possibilities”, he said that “the verdict as such has to be one of not guilty”.
Hill said that “the unfortunate narrative of the three sisters commenced, perhaps from innocent beginnings and from remarks taken out of proportion, which grew as we said, some time ago now, like a story, like wildfire … constantly added to and developed and varied over the years, where truth and reliability were lost in false accounts, and perhaps even at times hardened into false imaginations and false memories, false realities”.
Leifer sat in court during the trial, while the three complainants followed proceedings by a remote link from inside the court complex.
Earlier in court, Hill said testimony from Joshua Erlich, Dassi Erlich’s former husband, that in 2008 he overheard his wife discussing Meyer’s session with social worker Chana Rabinowitz – and that Dassi “doesn’t understand why Rabinowitz is making a big deal out of it” – is “pretty telling”.
He said Dassi Erlich and Meyer were “planning and plotting to harass Mrs Leifer and laughing about it”.
Stating Joshua Erlich had related how Leifer “would rub her, Hadassah [Dassi], on the thigh in an affectionate way”, Hill said, “Whatever was happening in that household, the family household of the Sappers, touch seems to have been thought strangely of by these three complainants. They were each uncomfortable with touch.”
Hill said evidence that Nechama (Nicole) Meyer told psychiatrist Dr Natalie Krapivensky in 2014 there had been no digital penetration of her contradicts some of the allegations relating to the charges against his client.
The barrister said evidence provided by Rabinowitz, and by social workers Dr Vicki Gordon and Professor Lorraine Dennerstein – who had respectively counselled Erlich, Sapper and Meyer – was in each case unsupported by any surviving notes of the sessions.
Ahead of Hill’s summation, Crown prosecutor Lewis summarised in graphic detail the 27 charges against Leifer, including digital penetration of all three girls.
Lewis noted the alleged acts had occurred away “from prying eyes” in Leifer’s home, the Adass school office and library, a camp and an overnight school trip.
Noting each complainant was cross-examined for days, on events dating back many years, Lewis advised the jury to consider that changes in their testimony were to be expected. “Witnesses are human beings … they are not computers or video recorders. I’m sure that is not news to you. I’m sure you can all think of examples from your own lives in relation to the quirks of memory. I suggest that nothing in any of that, once understood properly, provides any reason for you to not accept their evidence in relation to the charged acts.”
Lewis said Leifer “groomed and sexually abused” the complainants. Leifer had been “a respected member of their community and was in a position of authority that she was fully prepared to exploit. She knew that [the complainants] were vulnerable and she used that knowledge to exploit them. Knowing that they were neglected at home, she pretended that she loved them and told them that she was helping them. She manipulated their emotions while abusing them for her own sexual gratification, and she was able to conceal what she was doing for years due to that manipulation”.
“Members of the jury, you have more than enough evidence to convict the accused on the charges before you on the indictment, and I ask you to do so,” he said.