His Startup Is About to Go Public. He's Also a Killer

Inside the story of Harel Hershtik
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2022 3:15 PM CDT
His Startup Is About to Go Public. He's Also a Killer
Harel Hershtik poses for a photograph at his labs in Rehovot, Israel. When he was 20 years old, Hershtik planned and executed a murder. Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

(Newser) – When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, shooting his victim in the head and burying the body in a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details. Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors. Neither his conviction for premeditated murder, his lengthy prison sentence, nor his parole board-mandated nightly house arrest have obstructed his rise. His partners tout him as a successful case of rehabilitation and second chances. But with his company set to go public, Hershtik’s past is coming under new scrutiny, reports the AP.

Questions are being raised about whether someone who took a person’s life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent. But it's also an astounding tale of a life derailed and improbably set back on track through a combination of intellect, drive, and guile. Today, Hershtik, 46, is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018 while behind bars and which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test. In a three-hour interview with the AP, his first with an international news outlet, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime. At 14, Hershtik met Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper with a coterie of young fans.

Hershtik, who said he was physically and emotionally abused over his weight by peers, loved snakes and met Sela at a zootherapy program. The two ultimately partnered to crossbreed the reptiles. But the relationship morphed from a mentorship to one of "mutual loathing," according to court documents. In 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him; court documents say Hershtik concocted a plan to drive Sela to banks around the country, duping him into thinking he was gathering up the money to pay him back. Instead, Hershtik and an accomplice shot Sela dead on the trip and buried his body in a grove in the Golan Heights. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela’s body was found. The sensational crime gripped the nation.

In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik schemed and lied in his attempt to distance himself from the killing. Today, Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included a friend eventually found to be mentally unstable as well as his mother. After Hershtik’s accomplice confessed to police, Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison; he was paroled in 2021. But in a sense, Hershtik flourished behind bars. He earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and he got married three separate times (he is currently divorced). He said he established 31 companies, installing CEOs to run the day-to-day activities of his companies, and sold six of them. (Read the lengthy full story, which explains more about Scentech, valued at around $250 million.)

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