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March 20, 2019 5:12 pm

Sarah Halimi’s Lawyers, Relatives, Express Fury as Prospect of Criminal Trial in French Antisemitic Murder Case Again Recedes

avatar by Ben Cohen

Murdered French Jewish pensioner Sarah Halimi. Photo: Halimi family.

Lawyers representing the family of the Jewish doctor murdered during a frenzied antisemitic assault inside her Paris apartment in 2017 have expressed angry frustration at the news that the accused killer may yet escape a criminal trial.

“We are told that [the accused] Kobili Traore is not criminally responsible for his acts at the time of the event, and therefore cannot  be incarcerated, but it is [also] suggested that he is not sick, or at least not [formally diagnosed as] insane,” Oudy Bloch — a lawyer for the family of Sarah Halimi, who was beaten and tortured before being thrown from a third-floor window by Traore in the early hours of April 4, 2017 — told French news outlet L’Express on Tuesday.

Bloch was responding to widespread reports in the French media that accused killer Traore, now 29, had been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for his crime in a new psychiatrist’s report commissioned by the investigating judge in the case.

The mental health of Traore, who has been held in a psychiatric hospital since Halimi’s murder, had already been the subject of two previous psychiatric assessments — the first of which declared him fit to stand trial, while the second did not.

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Traore’s legal representatives warmly welcomed the latest report, which bolstered their case that that their client was delirious from the effects of cannabis — and therefore incapable of criminal responsibility under French law — when he subjected Halimi to the sustained assault.

“I’m not surprised, it corresponds to what I always said about the non-responsibility of my client,”  said Thomas Bidnic, Traore’s lawyer. “It is good that the experts are repeating it.”

After expressing skepticism at the claim that Traore’s use of cannabis had diminished his mental state to the point that he could not be held responsible for Halimi’s murder, Bloch asked pointedly: “What are we going to do now, are we going to release him?”

Bloch continued: “How will we explain to the family of the victim that the [murder of] Sarah Halimi was the act of a madman…who could be freed by means of a psychiatric follow-up?”

Halimi’s brother had earlier expressed despair at the latest development. “We want to see this crime punished, we want to see justice done, and we are very far from that outcome,” said William Attal.

Attal told Israeli broadcaster i24‘s French language channel on Monday that the new psychiatric report on Traore had caused a great deal of anguish to Halimi’s relatives.

“It brings pain, because for the children, grandchildren, for the family, this is a very difficult business,” Attal said.

Both Halimi’s murder and its immediate aftermath appeared to confirm fears among French Jews that wider French society remained largely indifferent toward rising antisemitism.

Traore, a Malian immigrant who lived in the same public housing project in eastern Paris as Halimi, was already known to the 65-year-old widow as a potential threat, having verbally abused her in the building’s elevator. Traore had also insulted Halimi’s daughter as a “dirty Jewess” a few weeks prior to the murder.

A chronic user of cannabis, Traore subsequently told police officers that he had felt possessed by a “demonic force” on the night of the killing. After terrorizing his Malian relatives in the same building, Traore broke into Halimi’s apartment at four o’clock in the morning on Apr. 4, entering through the fire escape. Once inside, he beat and kicked Halimi savagely while reportedly shouting the Arabic words “Allahu akbar” (“God is greater”) and “Sheitan” (“Satan”).

By the time Traore hurled Halimi’s bloodied body from the window at 5 a.m., a number of police officers had already been present in the building for several minutes, alerted by residents who had heard Halimi’s agonized cries. This apparent failure on the part of the police to prevent Halimi’s murder marked the beginning of a two-month period when her killing was virtually ignored by mainstream politicians and leading French media outlets.

But following Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the country’s presidential election in May 2017, politicians and media pundits began citing Halimi’s ordeal more frequently, as pressure grew for Traore to face a criminal trial amid a renewed national debate about antisemitism.

Subsequent developments — such as the murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll last March and, more recently, the revelation that antisemitic crimes rose by 74 percent in France in 2018 — underlined for many French Jews the urgency of a criminal trial in the Halimi case.

The Halimi family’s legal team is now waiting to establish whether the new psychiatric report will lead the investigating judge to rule against prosecuting Traore. Should that happen, they are certain to challenge that decision in the Paris Court of Appeal. In the event that the judge does decide to proceed, however, Traore’s lawyers have said that they would launch their own appeal, further delaying any prospective trial date.

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