For me it's inconceivable. It's a crime that I can't intellectually understand. How can someone remember to give water to their dog but forget about their child?
On June 19th, 2013, a 9-month-old girl died at her home near Toul, due to severe dehydration. According to forensic experts, the child had slept in an unventilated room with a temperature close to 30 °C and appeared to not have had a drink for 12 to 15 hours. The day before, her father – who was 25 at the time – had taken her for a stroll in direct sunlight. "The first question I asked was how could the parents have allowed for that to happen?" says Gregoire Niango, who served as the legal counsel for the elder brother of the deceased girl. "For me it's inconceivable. It's a crime that I can't intellectually understand. How can someone remember to give water to their dog but forget about their child?"The trial was held in Nancy, in October 2015. "Every single night during the trial, I would dream about this case. They let their baby die of thirst because of laziness. It's just incomprehensible," Niango despaired. He went on to admit to indulging in a "temper tantrum" in court, when he asked the father: "Has your dog died? Has your fish died? Has your baby died?" The defendant – who up to that point seemed unfazed – broke down in tears. "I was relieved to see him cry, because that reinstated his humanity," he said. The couple were sentenced to five years in prison.
In April 2015, Frédéric Berna defended a 40-year-old accused of, on the same night, killing his baby, sexually assaulting his daughter and fatally hitting his girlfriend with a flashlight before raping her corpse. A terrible trial, after which the defendant was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. However, this was not the case that Berna found most difficult to defend. "Defending an absolute bastard, who the common man considers a monster, is not that difficult. This is when your practical self takes over and you think, 'It's only business'. What is more complicated is defending a client, for whom you feel sympathy," Berna told me.He recalled his encounter with a young prisoner, who had been accused of torturing a fellow prisoner to death, together with his cellmate: "He was a young lad. He had just been transferred to the adults' prison, and I immediately took a liking to him." Sébastien Schwartz was sharing a cell of the Charles III prison with Johnny Agasucci (a 26-year-old construction painter, who had been implicated in a drugs case) and Sébastien Simonet, who awaited his trial for acts of torture committed on another cellmate. The latter had a habit of marking his roommates with an iron rod and was clearly reigning terror in the prison.
I felt tremendous pressure. I had come to think of Schwartz as a son. I'd lost all sense of perspective. As the trial approached, I couldn't sleep or eat properly.
It's an even more sordid story that Épinal-based attorney Pierre-André Babel was confronted with, back in 2009. A man from Saint-Dié des Vosges had started a relationship with a woman, who would eventually become Babel's client. According to the lawyer, the man was "a real pervert with an insatiable sexual appetite." He also maintained a relationship with his neighbour and kept a photo album of orgies that he had partaken in together with her and her young daughter. "He managed to manipulate these two women, who were both modest people, with serious deficiencies," Berna told me. Accused of sexual assault on a minor, the man, his partner and the neighbour were taken to the Court of Vosges, in June 2009. "Simply going through that photo album was a test of character," the lawyer remembers. "It was the first time in my career that what I saw gave me nightmares."What reassured the lawyer about the intentions of his client were the pre-trial interviews. Apparently, these made it obvious that the woman he had to defend had been manipulated. However, a few months before the trial, the male defendant stopped eating and taking his heart medication, which caused him to die in prison. "That was the first obstacle I had to overcome, because if the defendant was present at his trial, the jurors would have been made aware of his character and realised that he was the mastermind," said Babel. "The second difficulty, was that my own client had 'frozen' emotionally, and become unable to express compassion. She spoke of all the horrible things she had done, as if reciting a grocery list. It made me really uncomfortable. More importantly, if the jurors can't see a bit of humanity they cannot sympathise. I was afraid that her psychiatric pathology would lead to a sentence that was heavier than what she deserved."
She spoke of all the horrible things she had done, as if reciting a grocery list. It made me really uncomfortable.
"One morning in 1998, a 17-year-old woman walked into my office. She was pushing a pram, with a little blonde girl inside, and she was also heavily pregnant," recalled Hélène Strohmann – another lawyer from Nancy. The woman's boyfriend, whom Strohmann had defended a few years earlier, had been murdered before her eyes because of a drug deal that had gone awry. "The woman was a drug addict too and social services were threatening to take her children and place them under state custody. While we fought for that, she fell in love with another man. She was seven months into her pregnancy at the time."A few weeks after the birth of the child, Strohman was called to the Nancy police station to find out that the young woman had been arrested under the suspicion of infanticide. Apparently, that morning she had found the cold body of her baby in the crib. The autopsy revealed that his ribs had been fractured, and that he had also received violent blows to the head.
That morning she had found the cold body of her baby in the crib. The autopsy revealed that his ribs had been fractured, and that he had also received violent blows to the head.