Israeli who shot UK students `had brain defect'

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The retired Israeli army major who shot and killed a British tourist and wounded his girlfriend had been turned into a "killing machine", a court heard yesterday.

Daniel Okev, who has pleaded guilty to murder and grievous bodily harm but has denied premeditation, was yesterday described by his lawyers as being out of control. "(Daniel Okev) is very sorry and he wants the families in England to know that he is sorry," attorney David Yiftach said yesterday as the trial resumed at Beersheba District Court in Israel.

"Mr Okev did not have any intention to kill. He couldn't control himself and he did not know what he was doing. I will ask the court to send him to a mental institution instead of jail."

Mr Okev is charged with killing Max Hunter, 22, from Banstead and wounding his girlfriend, Charlotte Gibb, from Market Deeping , near Peterborough, in the Negev desert last August. Mr Okev picked up the couple, both Durham University students, as they hitchhiked near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, then shot them after stopping for a cigarette break, police said.

Although Mr Okev, 45, has confessed to the killing, Mr Yiftach is arguing that he has a brain defect that caused him to shoot Mr Hunter and Miss Gibb. If he is convicted of Mr Hunter's murder, Mr Okev faces a mandatory life sentence. The judges heard evidence yesterday from the police who arrested and interrogated Mr Okev and obtained his confession. Mr Yiftach said the prosecutor was rejecting the diagnosis of a court psychiatrist who found that Mr Okev had limited liability because of a mental defect, and has asked the court to order more tests.

The judges will make a ruling when the trial resumes 23 March.

Mr Okev told the court last September that he opened fire on the couple after deeply buried memories surfaced from his service in an army unit allegedly involved in extra-judicial killings of Palestinians.

Preliminary psychiatric evaluations found that Mr Okev might be suffering from neurological problems related to the trauma of his military service. Mr Yiftach said Mr Okev suffers from an organic brain defect that causes the gradual death of brain cells.