The family of Sarah Halimi — the French Jewish woman brutally murdered in her Paris apartment by an intruder who bellowed antisemitic slogans as he beat her relentlessly — lost their final court attempt to have her killer tried on Wednesday, as the country’s top appeals court upheld an earlier decision that he could not be held criminally responsible because his intake of marijuana on the night of the killing had rendered him temporarily insane.
The decision means that Halimi’s accused murderer, 31-year-old Kobili Traore, will never have to stand trial in a French court for his act.
Explaining its decision, the Court of Cassation argued that since Traore had imbibed what it termed an “acute delirious puff” on a marijuana joint that eliminated his “discernement” — or self-awareness — he could not “be judged criminally even when his mental state was caused by the regular consumption of drugs.” Traore will remain as a patient in a psychiatric hospital under the supervision of two doctors who have the power to release him should they decide he no longer poses a danger to others.
The decision effectively brings to an end a bitter four-year legal and political battle that began on April 4, 2017. Traore — a resident of the same public housing project in eastern Paris as Halimi, a child development expert who lived alone — broke into her apartment during the early morning hours by climbing onto her balcony from the apartment of a neighbor.
Terrified neighbors who alerted police after hearing Halimi’s cries for help reported that Traore had shouted the words, “Allahu Akhbar,” and, “Shaitan” (Arabic for “Satan”) as he rained kicks and punches on his victim, before picking up her bruised body and throwing her out of the window of her third-floor apartment.
Police investigations later revealed that Halimi had told relatives that she was scared of Traore, who insulted her visiting daughter as a “dirty Jewess” a few weeks before the murder. The accused killer, who has a lengthy criminal record for petty offenses, was also reported to have regularly attended religious services at a local mosque frequented by Islamists.
At the time of the murder, the French media was widely accused by members of the Jewish community of ignoring Halimi’s fate based on the concern that it might impact the French presidential election — which was then in the final weeks of its campaign — in favor of the far right. Following Emmanuel Macron’s victory in June 2017, the new president declared on several occasions that Traore should face a criminal trial, a call that was echoed by several politicians but rebuked by the judiciary, who charged Macron with encroaching on their independence.
For his part, Traore admitted his guilt during his one recorded court appearance in Nov. 2019. “What I committed was horrible. I regret what I did. I apologize to the civil parties,” he said. However, successive psychiatric experts consulted by the court continued to insist that Traore’s mental state at the time of the killing meant that he could not be deemed criminally responsible.
Lawyers for Halimi angrily slammed the Cassation Court’s decision on Wednesday as a license to kill Jews with impunity.
“Today we can smoke, snort and inject ourselves in high doses to the point of causing ourselves an ‘acute delirious puff’ which abolishes our ‘discernement‘, and we will benefit from criminal irresponsibility,” lawyer Oudy Bloch told French media outlets. “It’s a bad message that has been sent to French citizens of the Jewish faith.”
In a post on Twitter that also tagged President Macron’s own account, Francis Kalifat — president of Crif, the French-Jewish representative organization — stated plainly that “now in our country, we can torture and kill Jews with impunity.”
The French Jewish student union, the UEJF, similarly excoriated the decision. “An antisemitic murder will not be tried in France in 2021,” the group said on Twitter. “A terribly fatal signal has been sent in the fight against antisemitism in our country.”
A lawyer for Traore meanwhile expressed satisfaction that the Cassation Court had upheld Court of Appeal’s Dec. 2019 decision to spare his client a criminal trial.
“We can obviously understand the frustration of the victims in the absence of a trial but, in in its current state, our law refuses to judge the acts of those whose consent has been abolished,” Patrice Spinosi said following the court’s announcement.
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Author: Ben Cohen
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