Prosecutors on Monday indicted Giora Praff for the aggravated murder of his wife Esti Ahronovitz, after she was found shot to death at their home in the south of the country last month.
According to the indictment filed with the Beersheba District Court, Praff, 65, shot his wife five times, including two shots to the back of her head as she lay on the floor. Praff denies deliberately killing Ahronovitz, 70, and says the gun accidentally discharged during the course of a fight over his weapon.
Praff is a well-known humanitarian doctor who took part in several international aid missions and was the first Israeli member of the Red Cross.
He was well regarded in Israel, the US, and other countries, but has confessed to domestic violence, and has been accused of stalking, assault, and harassment.
In 1993, he pleaded guilty to beating his first wife, Heidi Praff, according to Maryland public records.
Ahronovitz was Praff’s third wife. She was found dead in the small community of Talmei Eliyahu in the southern Eshkol region. She is survived by four children and nine grandchildren, and worked as an elementary school music teacher prior to her retirement.
According to the indictment, Ahronovitz began taking legal action against Praff as part of a financial dispute over household expenses. Praff went on a trip overseas for the 10 days before the murder, during which time Ahronovitz began to move his belongings into a separate room in their home, and also hid his gun.
When Praff returned home, Ahronovitz informed him that she would only return the gun to him after he moved out, the indictment says.
On the day of the murder, Praff took possession of the gun and shot his wife five times. He left her bleeding on the floor and fled in his car.
According to prosecutors, Ahronovitz’s murder was premeditated. However, Praff maintains that the gun went off during a confrontation with his wife after he had packed his belongings and planned to leave as part of divorce proceedings.
Praff’s lawyer, Tsiki Feldman, told Channel 12 news that Ahronovitz’s death was due to a “tragic and unfortunate incident of a gun going off, not under his control.”
Praff was apprehended when his car flipped over on the side of the road in the area, hours after his wife’s body was discovered, after police tried to reach him. When searching the car, police found the gun, drugs and money in foreign currencies to the value of around NIS 700,000 (approximately $200,000), Haaretz reported.
Prosecutors asked that he be remanded in custody until the conclusion of the trial.
While Praff had been mainly known as a respected and celebrated veteran humanitarian doctor who operated in countless countries, his second wife told the Ynet news site last month that he had stalked and harassed her repeatedly after they separated.
“He has a charming side and a twisted side,” said the woman, identified as Nirit, who lives in the United States. “I spoke with Esti once and told her I think there is a problem, but she didn’t want to listen. She was in love with him. He has a charm. He excels at everything. Nobody ever believed what I said about him — they said I was inventing stories because he’s smart and a genius.”
Nirit said that when she told him she wanted a divorce, he became abusive, including after they separated. “It didn’t end until I contacted police,” she said. “He would call me in the middle of the night and would try to get into my house. He would drive by my house repeatedly and follow me when I went swimming in the morning. He did everything to make me miserable. There were many moments in which I was afraid and was told to get a restraining order.”
When Nirit’s father died, she said, Praff came to her home during the shiva mourning period and assaulted her, holding her against the wall and trying to kiss her. “He didn’t let go until I screamed,” she said. The abuse only ended, Nirit said, when he met Esti.
In a 2012 interview, Praff said: “At home it’s not always good. You don’t always manage to be a good father, and don’t always manage to be a good husband. The family has certain demands that you can’t always fulfill. One of my sons always reminds me that he had needed me and I was in some desolate place abroad. It’s not always easy. Giving is what keeps me alive.”
Praff studied with the Red Cross in Switzerland and became an expert on humanitarian and rescue missions in areas hit by war and natural disasters. Over the years he worked at John Hopkins and Sinai Baltimore hospitals in the US, where he was a clinical professor. He volunteered as the manager of a hospice for terminally ill patients in Maryland. He was a senior doctor for 10 years at Native American reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota, and participated in complex rescue mission in Alaska in extreme temperatures.
He also spent time as a doctor and hospital manager in Equatorial Guinea, and was personally honored by the king and queen of Cambodia for heading a medical delegation during that country’s civil war. He also headed similar delegations in Armenia, Georgia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Ahronovitz was the 13th woman thought to have been murdered by a relative or acquaintance in Israel this year.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.