One of two Israeli nationals who were aboard a Mexico cruise ship when Karen Roston died on her honeymoon appeared Thursday as a surprise prosecution witness, announcing he was not a secret agent for the Israeli government, but a wedding photographer on vacation.
Maurice Haziza’s testimony in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles landed a strong blow to Scott Roston’s claim that Israeli agents had strangled his wife, hoisted her overboard and tried to frame him for the murder.
“Do you belong to the Israeli secret service?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Kendra McNally asked near the conclusion of Roston’s trial for second-degree murder on the high seas.
“No,” Haziza replied.
“Do you belong to the Israeli Mafia?” the prosecutor inquired.
“No,” he said, laughing.
Haziza, 30, said he and a traveling companion had visited Disneyland and Universal Studios, then embarked on the Mexico cruise to complete their vacation after photographing the wedding of a friend.
He was asleep in his cabin at 2 a.m. when Karen Roston was murdered, Haziza testified.
After his testimony, the witness said he did not learn that he and his traveling companion, Emil Yaron, 45, had been identified by the defense as possible suspects until the FBI contacted his friend, notifying him that Roston’s lawyer planned to introduce their names on the passenger list as his only piece of evidence.
“He said, ‘You remember that cruise?’ I said, ‘Yes, why?’ He said, ‘Look. You are wanted to testify that you are involved with Israeli agents.’ I said, ‘Try to find another joke.’ He said, ‘No, is not a joke.’ ”
McNally said Yaron was available to testify but it “wasn’t necessary” because Haziza’s testimony was enough to discredit the defense.
Defense lawyer David Kenner told jurors that Haziza’s testimony fell short of answering all the questions about Roston’s claim that Israeli agents drugged him and murdered his wife in retribution for a book he wrote about human rights abuses in Israel.
‘Would You . . . Admit It?’
“If in fact you were an agent of a secret Israeli organization, would you come in and admit it to us today?” he demanded as he concluded his cross-examination.
Kenner said the seeming outlandishness of Roston’s story makes it all the more likely to be true.
“If Scott Roston killed his wife, I implore you to evaluate, why make up a story that is as implausible as this one?” Kenner said in his closing argument. “If Scott sat down to fabricate a set of facts upon which you are to find him not guilty, he could not have done a worse job.”
Roston, he said, at first told ship employees that he did not know what happened to his wife and that she might have been blown overboard while the couple was alone on the upper-deck jogging track because he was afraid to tell the truth until he was safely back in the United States in the hands of government authorities.
If Israeli agents were bent on revenge over Roston’s book, “Nightmare in Israel,” Kenner asked, why did they kill his wife and not him?
“If you kill Scott Roston, you make him another in a long line of martyrs,” Kenner told the jury. “But if you destroy his credibility, if you put him behind bars for a murder he did not commit, you have accomplished your purpose.”
But McNally recounted testimony of passengers aboard the ship who said Roston, a chiropractor and fitness enthusiast, had appeared constantly irritated at his wife, particularly when she indulged in sweets after meals. One passenger, she said, testified that he had seen Karen Roston pounding at her husband’s chest about an hour before her death while he was grabbing her hands and kissing her.
Photograph of Cabin
Given Roston’s annoyance at his wife’s eating habits, McNally said, it is potentially significant that a photograph of the couple’s cabin taken shortly after Karen Roston’s death showed a piece of pie on a table between the two beds.
“Would that have infuriated, would that have inflamed, would that have enraged Scott Roston?” she asked.
After Karen Roston disappeared overboard, McNally said, Roston’s stories changed. At first, he told ship’s employees she had been blown overboard in a stiff wind. Then, he said he did not see what happened. Then, he made the allegations about the Israeli agents.
“Confronted with the facts and the disbelief of every person he encountered, the defendant changed his story,” McNally said.