Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The James Ossuary trial is history, now, and all defendants were exonerated of fraudulent activity in connection with an ossuary bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The ossuary, which dates to the First Century, is thought by some to be the bone box which held earthly remains of the James mentioned as Jesus' brother in the Gospels. Of course, the trial did not establish that the ossuary is authentic, it merely established that the defendants did not forge it. As the fictional barrister Horace Rumpole was wont to say, "A criminal trial is a pretty blunt instrument for prising out the truth."

The evidence for the prosecution came from two sources: (1) experts who testified that "brother of Jesus" was added centuries after "James, son of Joseph" was carved on the box, and (2) Joseph Zias, who testified that he saw the box years ago in an antiquities shop, and at that time the box only bore the inscription "James, son of Joseph." Zias did not perform well on the witness stand. Because Israel has an inquisitorial criminal justice system, cross-examination has a different dynamic than in America. Despite this difference, the defense attorney's examination of Zias did a thorough job of demolishing Zias's testimony.

A. I came [to the Old City of Jerusalem in the mid 1990s] … for something. All of a sudden I saw Mahmud Abu Shukreh. He asked me, “Would you like a cup of tea?” I said, “Why not?” I entered his shop … and sat down. We were alone and I went in for a cup of tea—I know it was winter because I only drink tea during the winter. I sat down in his rather small shop as he went to make the tea. As I looked around I suddenly saw an ossuary which, in my opinion, had no value and took up a lot of space. When he came out with the tea I said to him, “Mahmud, listen, why do you keep this thing around? It has no monetary value.” He looked at me and said, “This is my pension.” I said to him: “If someone would offer you $200, take the money and go, because it has no monetary value.”

Then he went and brought the ossuary from the wall [space]. I was sitting on a small stool, like the ones with a straw seat that you find in the market. He brought it from the wall. I looked at him and said, “There is an inscription there.” I am not a graphologist, that is not my field. I am interested in what is in the boxes, not the ossuaries themselves. I asked what it was. He told me that it was inscribed Yaakov ben Yosef. As I said, he told me that it was his pension, this Yaakov ben Yosef. I knew at once what he meant, for it is one of my areas of interest.

I said to him, “Listen, if it were inscribed Yaakov ben Yosef brother of Yeshu or anything like it, you would really have something. But as it is, what you have is of no value.” He did not react. He didn’t say a thing. He simply put it back. We drank the tea, and that was the end of the story until 2002.

Q. Did you read the inscription on the ossuary?

A. No, no no. Mahmud read it to me.

Q. You say that he did not read the inscription to you. Is there anything that you do remember? How do you know that this is the same ossuary that you are talking about?

A. Because of the context … Without this statement—“This is my pension”—I wouldn’t have remembered this, because this was just …

Q. But why do you think that this is the ossuary under discussion and not another one? He (Mahmud) actually told you something different than what is presently inscribed on this ossuary!

A. First of all, from my look at only a part, badly worn. The inscription was quite small because there are many ossuaries. I told you, I have seen so many ossuaries during my life, some with an inscription so large you can read it from the other side [of the room]. This one had something very, very small and that is the reason. I looked at it for a few seconds and asked Mahmud, “What is this,” and he then told me, “This is my pension.” I said, Wow, now I understand what he meant.

Q. Look here Mr. Zias, when I first asked you to tell us how you knew it was winter, you said it was because you drank tea.

A. Yes

Q. Then you told us that you actually don’t know if you drank coffee or tea. For if you drank coffee you say it was summer; if tea, it was winter. It doesn’t help us at all with this case, indeed it is inconsequential.

A. All right, as far as I am concerned, you can strike it.


A. Cup of tea, cup of coffee.

Q. Now I want to ask you. Did Abu Shukreh really invite you to drink and show you the ossuary. Wasn’t he afraid that you were from the Antiquities Authority?
And he had in his hands an object that in his opinion was his pension, something very valuable, and he showed it to someone from the Antiquities Authority and was not afraid?

A. I’ll tell you why. If it were inscribed Yaakov ben Yosef brother of Yeshu, I would have immediately done two things: I would have gone to the Antiquities Authority or I would have gone to the Christian community, where I have many connections because of my research. Since the inscription was only Yaakov ben Yosef it and had no significance, it was not illegal, not against the law, insignificant, just an ossuary with two names.

Q. … Did you not say to us here, and also at the police, that the reason you remember this ossuary is because of the context, because of the content …

A. Yes.

Q. … of the words. But you when you were recently at the office of the state’s attorney, you made a correction and told them something different, you said that you remember the ossuary because of the rosettes.

A. No, no.

Q. You never said anything like that?

A. No, no, no.

Q. So, the interrogator apparently was confused, for that is what he affirmed to us, that you did say that. And I will tell you when, I will remind you what is written here in the record: The date was 20 August, yesterday. He writes that on 19 August you were at the office of the state’s attorney. Do you remember that you were in Jerusalem?

A. Ah, yes, yes, yes.

Q. Now?

A. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Q. Right. All sorts of things are written here. “Yesterday we met with Mr. Zias, etc. and the ossuary itself he remembers because of its rosettes.

A. Yes, I’ll tell you why, because one sees the rosettes …

Attorney Bahat [for the prosecution] … with difficulty.

Q. If [Abu Shukreh] had an ossuary with an inscription, inspectors from the Antiquities Authority would have come across it. If it was in the shop, and not in a cellar or a warehouse or a hiding place, the inspectors from the I.A.A. who make the rounds of the shops would have seen it and would not they, not you, have informed the I.A.A.?

A. No, I’ll tell you why. The inscription was turned to the wall. If the inscription had been turned outward where any and everyone entering the shop could see it, it would have been obvious. But the side with the inscription was concealed against the wall to hide it from onlookers.

Q. When he showed it to you, were you not in a position to read the inscription?

A. No, from the angle where I was sitting it was not possible. It was about a meter away from me and I was sitting below it. To see the inscription it would have been necessary to move it to a table where one could look at it. I had come to drink a cup of coffee, or tea with this gentleman, no more.

Q, Either coffee or tea—we cannot be sure.

A. Yes, yes.

Q. Based on what you said to the police, you said that “he then turned the ossuary
around and I saw an inscription on the back side.”

A. Yes.

Q. [And you said] I cannot read Aramaic.

A. Yes.

Q. And you asked that he read the inscription to you.

A. Yes, yes.

Q. So it is not because you were a meter away, not a matter of distance—you were could have stood up and had a look.

A. No.

Q. Is the word Yosef an Aramaic name? [Zias’s personal name is Yosef (Joseph)]

A. I have no idea. That is not my area of expertise. I am not an epigrapher.

Q. I ask you again: You said to the police—perhaps incorrectly, perhaps erroneously, perhaps you may wish to correct your testimony – that you did not read [the inscription] because it was written in Aramaic and you do not understand Aramaic.

A. I did not read it, he read it to me. He told me what was inscribed.

Q. You said that because it was Aramaic, which you don’t understand—these are your words—“I do not read Aramaic”—you asked him.

A Yes!

Q. You asked him to read the inscription to you because you do not read Aramaic. That is what you said.

A. Look, you know that most of the inscriptions are in Aramaic or Hebrew, and that’s it.

Q. The word “Yosef”—is that an Aramaic name?

A. I have no idea, no idea, for that is not my field—I am not an epigrapher.

Joe Zias originally claimed to have seen the James Ossuary without the words “brother of Jesus: in the Jerusalem shop of antiquities dealer Mahmoud Abushakra. This photo, taken by Ludwig Kempe, shows Abushakra standing in the doorway while Joe Zias (left) and Hans Kempe (right) look on. Abushakra, a reputable dealer, denied ever having in his shop the ossuary Zias described.

Q. I am saying to you, sir, that, field or no field, anyone here at this moment in this chamber knows how to read this, and I say to you that anyone you stop on the street would look and know how to read these words. They all can read the word “Yosef” [Joseph] or the word “Yaakov” [Jacob] or the word “bar [son of, as in bar mitzvah].

A. You know that up to now I have not seen the ossuary except in pictures.

Q. Seen? You said in my presence that you saw it.

A. Ah, yes.
Q. At Abu Shukreh’s.

A. No, no, my intent is that after the whole story came out I saw it only in pictures.

Q. You took part in conferences on this subject, you wrote articles [on the internet] on the subject but you never actually saw it!

A. What article did I write about this?

Q. Do you want me to show you?

A. Oh, something on the internet? Yes, I did write on the internet. Yes, but.

Q. You wrote articles, you expressed yourself, you were present, you attended conferences that dealt with this ossuary?

A. Yes, yes.

Q. But you never took the trouble to look at it not even in a photo?

A. No, I did see the photographs.

Q. You saw the photograph.

A. Certainly I saw the photographs.

Q. Then you did not see the inscription in the photographs? You only looked at the rosettes when you saw the photos?

A. No, no, no, not so.

Q. So you are saying to us—again I want to understand—Is what you said to the police correct or incorrect? You stated there that you could not read [the inscription] because it was in Aramaic and you asked Abu Shukreh to read it to you.

A. Yes, yes.

Q And this statement is correct?

A. Yes, yes, he read it to me, yes, yes.

Q. Right. And you stand by your position even now that it was impossible for you to read it because only someone who knows Aramaic could do so?

A. Yes.

Q. And that you cannot identify there the words “Yaakov,” “Yosef,” and “bar.”

A. Yes.

Q. Cannot identify these three words? Very well.

A. You know that up to now I have not seen the ossuary, I told you I only saw it in . . .Till now I have not see it in person.

Q. Mr. Zias, I return to your statement to the police: “Yaakov and Yeshu occur in abundance [on ossuaries].]

A. Yes, yes.

[Attorney Bahat: No, read it to the end.]

Q. [Attorney Bringer reads from Zias’s statement to the police:]
“I knew at once what I, what he, intended and I told him to be cautious, for Sukenik discovered something similar in the 1920s that had no significance because those names were very common. Yaakov and Yeshu occur in abundance.”

Now where on this ossuary did the name “Yeshu” appear? [By your testimony] It did not appear, according to what you said.

A. No.

Q. It did not appear. It was only Yaakov bar Yosef.

A. That’s what I told you.

Q. This “Yeshu” was Abu Shukreh”s interpretation? –that this was his brother?

A. Yes, yes, yes.

Q. So how does this connect with the “abundance of Yeshu?” I remind you that Prof. Kloner testified here this morning that these [names] are not abundant, not at all. And I remind you that the word “Yeshu,” as you have asserted, was not there. So you inserted the word “Yeshu.” Why is this relevant? Let us assume that there are many “Yeshu”s. What is the relevance? Yeshu [according to your testimony] was not there, so why does it matter? Why did you say to Abu Shukreh that Yaakov and Yeshu occur in abundance?

A. No …

Q. Good. Let me ask you, how many ossuaries do you know of or have heard about or seen in photographs or read about that are inscribed Yaakov bar Yosef?

A. I don’t know.

Q. I have already told you that Prof. Kloner testified this morning that he does not know of even one. But perhaps you know of many. So please explain.

A. No …
Other Ossuary

This ossuary, inscribed “Joseph, son of Judah, son of Hadas” is likely the ossuary that Zias saw in Mahmoud Abushakra’s shop. Zias, who cannot read ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, could not have read the inscriptions on this Joseph Ossuary or the James Ossuary.

Q. [Judge Farkash] The question put to you by Attorney Bringer is this: At the moment that you said to Abu Shukreh that Prof. Sukenik had found, had in his hands, an ossuary inscribed Yeshu bar Yosef, and this one was inscribed Yaakov bar Yosef, and [Sukenik’s] caused quite a stir, it was understandable why Abu Shukreh thought that his ossuary was also his pension.

A. Right, right, yes, yes.

Q. [Judge Farkash] Right?

A. Yes, yes …

Q. And don’t you understand? You said that it [the ossuary] was nothing, not important?

Q. [Judge Farkash] So why did you say it was nothing? If the ossuary inscribed Yeshu bar Yosef caused quite a stir when Prof. Sukenik found it, Abu Shukreh now tells you that he has an ossuary inscribed Yaakov bar Yosef, that it too should cause quite a stir. So
it is possible to understand that this one was worth a lot. Why did you tell him that it was worthless? This is the question.

A. If the ossuary was Yeshu ben Yosef, it would be valuable. But one should take care.
The point I wanted to make was that because the inscription was Yaakov ben Yosef, not Yeshu ben Yosef, it was insignificant.

Q. [Judge Farkash] Yes, but you yourself said that Yeshu had several brothers.

A. Yes, four brothers.

Q. [Judge Farkash] So, what if this [inscription] was one of his four brothers? I have a news reporter here for all these sessions just for this.

A. Yes, but without the continuation of the inscription you don’t know. Even I felt uncomfortable that I possibly put the idea into his head, but now I am sure that I did not, that he already knew that it was possible to change [the inscription] and simply raise the price of the ossuary to the sky.

Q. Good. Now please tell me how many ossuaries do you know of here in Israel that are inscribed with the name Yeshu? I can help you. There is the one from Talpiot that Amos Kloner . .

A. Two.

Q. Two.

A. Yes.

Q. So why did you say to Abu Shukreh that “Yaakov” is quite widespread, quite common? And “Yeshu” is very common? It is not at all common. There was [the ossuary published by] Sukenik and there was [the one found in] Talpiot—two with the name Yeshu. I do not say that this [inscription] was really the brother of Yeshu or that Sukenik’s [inscription] was Yeshu. I do not understand such matters, I am not a professional [archeologist], but it certainly arouses one’s curiosity. Rarely does one see an ossuary inscribed Yehoshua [=Yeshu] ben Yosef, which is quite interesting, quite curious, a fact that you say all the world is interested in. Who is fact was buried there I do not know. And the same with Yaakov. If that was Yaakov ben Yosef, you knew that he [Yeshu] had a brother named Yaakov. This being the case, you immediately made the tie-in that this [Yaakov] was connected to Yeshu?

A. Yes, yes.

[Judge Farkash] Good.

A. I remember that I saw it, I simply don’t know where, that’s not how it was. I just said—wait a minute – this was a matter of process, finally I remembered—wait a minute—I remember the day that I was at Abu Shukreh, and there was this ossuary, and I didn’t go to the Antiquities Authority because I was involved in a dispute with them, I won quite a large judgment and received quite a lot of money. And that is the reason [I didn’t know] to whom I should turn. To Oded Golan?

Q. Just a moment. You previously said it took time before you came to the idea, the insight that this was the ossuary.

A. Yes, many years went by.

Q. Many years. Exactly. And then you see, it took time, when, finally—how does the expression go?—the coin dropped [into the telephone box]. When exactly did it occur to you that this was [the ossuary] you saw at Abu Shukreh?

A. After I bought the book by Hershel Shanks.

Q. You bought the book by Hershel Shanks?

A. Why? Because there were pictures in it.

Q. Before than you had never seen the ossuary?

A. I had seen it only in the press—something like that.

Q. And when did that occur?

A. I have no idea, I only know that it was 2003.
Joe Zias

Joe Zias testified in English, but his testimony was translated into Hebrew for the record. These excerpts were translated from the Hebrew.

Q. Why did you contend [on the internet and at conferences] with all sorts of arguments by experts that the ossuary was this or not that, but you never said “I saw it?” You were engaged with hundreds of publications but not once did you ever write the simplestthing in the world: I saw the ossuary and “brother of Yeshu” was not inscribed on it.

A. At the moment the scientific arguments do not interest me, I am not debating with you.

[Judge Farkash] Why in all your postings on the internet did you never write that you saw this ossuary around 1992 at Abu Shukreh’s, why did you never write this?

A. I’ll tell you why. Because I simply didn’t want, I knew, that after I had spoken with Yosi Pagis [of the police]—Yosi?

[Judge Farkash] Yonatan

A. Oh, Yonatan. So he said, Listen, there is a chance you will be a witness at this trial. So he simply told me to be careful with what I say. I didn’t want to give too much information to Oded Golan and his attorney. That is the reason. Look, I did not want to conduct the trial over the internet, this is the reason I never mentioned [Abu Shukreh].


This Monday I heard from Vic Africano's son, Chris. He had just read The Last Murder and wanted to share his thoughts on the book with me. Vic, who passed away several years ago, was Ted Bundy's defense attorney in the prosecution of the Lake City case. When I wrote about our battle with Vic over seating arrangements for the trial, I said that he wanted to be facing the TV cameras because he was something of a publicity hound. Chris enlightened me as to Vic's real reason for wanting to face the cameras. I'll let him explain it in his own words:

Just wanted to let you know I read your book on the Bundy case, and found it to be well written and factual. It brought back many childhood memories as I grew up during that time and this case affected my childhood in many ways. My one disagreement is that you stated my father was a media hound. He actually disagreed with cameras in the courtroom, as he thought they were a distraction. The reason he kept trying to move is so the camera would quit showing his bald spot in the back. I remember at dinner several times he would complain about it, stating "every time I see myself on TV, the camera is zoomed in on my bald spot". We used to laugh and tease him about this. He was trying to keep the cameras in front of him to hide his bald spot. I guess me and my family were the only ones he mentioned this to.

It turns out Vic wasn't concerned about the cameras getting his face, he just didn't want them to get his bald spot. It's just as well that Vic didn't share this reason with us. I would have teased him unmercifully.

Sunday, June 10, 2012 purports to be a book club which gives away free books. It supposedly has pages set up by readers somewhat like Goodreads and Shelfari. There is a reader page on Onreads which purports to be maintained by me. It is not. I have written Onreads asking them to take the page down, but have gotten no response. Be aware that the "George R (Bob) Dekle" on that site IS NOT me. I don't know what kind of game is being played with my name, but I certainly do not like it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

An Open Letter to the Governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection

 I just posted an email to the Governor's Task Force which is reviewing the "Stand Your Ground" law. If you are interested in commenting on the law, you can post an email to You should do so before June 12, 2012, which is the date of the public hearing.  Here's what I had to say to the Governor's task Force:

It is my understanding that on June 12, 2012 the Governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection will meet and take public comment. I will not be able to attend, but I do wish to voice my strong opposition to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

To abolish the duty to retreat places the value of human life below the value of self esteem. If someone can safely retreat from a confrontation without using deadly force, then a life is saved at the cost of the retreater being accused of cowardice. A small price to pay for saving a life.

To enact a presumption of reasonable fear places too high an obstacle to bringing people to account for killing. The absence of a duty to retreat coupled with the presumption of reasonable fear results in numerous killings which are both "justifiable" and morally reprehensible.

To put a cloak of both civil and criminal immunity about the shoulders of anyone who acts in "self defense" means that "Stand Your Ground" hearings are being held in misdemeanor cases. In this day of shrinking budgets and limited human resources, the court system cannot afford this additional layer of litigation to be added to an already overburdened criminal justice system.

The Tampa Bay Times has recently published a study of the Stand Your Ground law which is deeply troubling. I hope you familiarize yourselves with this study, which can be found at:

I was a prosecutor and a public defender for 32 years. In that time I handled hundreds of homicides and thousands of felonious assault cases. In my experience, under the law as it existed prior to "Stand Your Ground," people who truly acted in self defense didn't get prosecuted, and people who had a colorable claim of self defense didn't get convicted. There was no need for the law.

I would like to illustrate my point with two cases, one a real life case and the other a hypothetical. The real life case comes from Phoenix, and a full account of it can be found at  It appears that a young man was walking his dog through a Phoenix Taco Bell parking lot and got into a verbal altercation with the driver of a motor vehicle. The driver shot the young man dead in "self defense." When asked why he didn't just drive off, he said the dog was in the way. Apparently the driver valued the life of the dog over the life of the dog's owner. Apparently the car was also missing a reverse gear. Or was it that the driver knew Arizona is a Stand Your Ground state and believed that he could sit in his car and shoot the man with impunity? If that is what he was thinking, then it looks like he was absolutely correct. It's been over a month since the shooting and he hasn't been arrested. 

Now for the hypothetical case: Let's say that I am a world class sprinter (I'm not) walking down the sidewalk. I see a 5'2" 350 pounder with a limp and a smoker's cough hobbling toward me on his cane. He obviously cannot run fast or far, but he has a club in his free hand and, between wheezing gasps for breath, he is shouting threats to brain me with the club. He's 30 yards away when I first see him. I can obviously save my life and spare his by turning around and running away. What should I do? Florida Statute 776.012 says that I am perfectly within my rights to "stand my ground" and shoot him dead without taking a backward step. And Florida Statute 776.032(2) warns investigating law officers not to arrest me.

I recommend the repeal of the entire "Stand Your Ground" law. If you don't want to re-impose the duty to retreat, then repeal the presumption of reasonable fear and the immunity. At the very least repeal the immunity. The way the law is written now, someone could negligently kill innocent bystanders exercising his "right" to self defense and be immune to civil suit by the slain bystanders' relatives.

George R. Dekle, Sr.

Friday, June 1, 2012


When I wrote my first book, Prosecution Principles: A Clinical Handbook, I had very little experience and no training as an author. If you needed a search warrant or a racketeering indictment, I could whip one out pretty easily, but I was clueless about how to write a book. Instead of seeking guidance from someone or even reading a book on the subject, I adhered to the maxim: "Don't learn from the mistakes of others. Make them all yourself."

Now, as I am busily writing my fifth and sixth books and gathering material for my seventh, I look back on that first effort and ask myself  "How in the world did I ever get that book published?" As keenly aware as I am of how much better a job could have been done on the book, I tend to ignore the book's qualities. That's what makes it nice when someone reminds me that the book does have some good qualities.  Yesterday I got an email reminder. It came from an elected prosecutor in Virginia who teaches as an adjunct professor at Washington & Lee University. He wrote:

Hello Prof. Dekle,

I am a small town prosecutor in Virginia and teach a seminar for third year prosecutor externs at W&L. We have been using your book the past few years and as I'm preparing for next fall I thought I'd just drop you a note of appreciation and thanks. The book has been perfect for this course and I personally have really connected to many of the points you make about the role of a prosecutor. 

Christopher B. Russell
Professor of Practice
Washington and Lee University
Commonwealth's Attorney for the
City of Buena Vista, Virginia