Lawyers acting for the family of a French Jewish widow murdered in her own home during a frenzied antisemitic assault have vowed to appeal the ruling of a Paris court that will potentially allow her accused killer to be released without trial.
Last Friday, the judges in charge of the preliminary investigation into the murder of Sarah Halimi — a 65-year-old former teacher who was severely beaten and then tossed from a third-floor window on April 4, 2017, by 27-year-old Kobili Traore, her neighbor in a Paris public housing project — ruled that Traore could not be held criminally responsible for his actions because he had been smoking marijuana heavily in the hours before the killing.
In addition, according to a source close to the case who was quoted by the leading news outlet Le Figaro, the preliminary judges also dismissed the contention that Traore’s crime was aggravated by his violent antisemitism.
During Halimi’s ordeal, Traore — a Muslim of Malian origin who had been attending a local mosque frequented by Islamists — was heard screaming, “Allahu Akhbar,” and, “Shaitan,” (Arabic for “Satan”) as he beat his victim, while a few weeks previously he had insulted Halimi’s visiting daughter as a “dirty Jewess” when their paths crossed in the building’s elevator.
On Monday, both the Paris public prosecutor’s office and lawyers for Halimi’s family pledged to take the case to the appeal court that will make the final decision on whether Traore will undergo a criminal trial.
A spokesperson for CRIF, the official representative body of French Jews, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the community’s fight to secure justice for Halimi was not over, despite Friday’s decision.
“There is another step to take, as the prosecutors and the family lawyers will appeal this decision before the ‘Juge d’instruction,‘” explained Robert Ejnes — the executive director of CRIF — in a reference to the appeal court composed of three judges who will decide on whether to proceed with a criminal trial, based on testimony from experts, witnesses and family members.
“It’s the end of Act One, and we are ready for Act Two,” Ejnes said. “And we are very cautious about what will happen with Act Two.”
Ejnes said he expected the Halimi family’s appeal to be heard this coming fall.
In an editorial published on the CRIF website on Monday, the organization’s president, Francis Kalifat, derided the notion of Traore’s diminished criminal responsibility because of his chronic use of marijuana.
“What is this new rule that makes a murderer who voluntarily took drugs unfit to stand trial, when a driver who caused an accident after using the same drug would be treated with greater severity?” Kalifat asked pointedly. “Who are we kidding?”
As Kalifat noted in his editorial, however, despite its shocking nature, Friday’s decision by the court was not unexpected.
“This ruling comes as no surprise because, since the beginning of this case, we have witnessed delays in trying to present this murderer as insane,” Kalifat wrote.
Meanwhile, the BNVCA — a Paris-based group that works with victims of antisemitic attacks — had warned over a month ago that Traore would escape a criminal trial.
Traore’s defense team consistently argued that their client’s judgement on the night he murdered Halimi — and therefore his criminal responsibility — had been nullified by his consumption of marijuana. Two of the three independent psychiatric reports commissioned by the investigating judge concurred with this assessment. At the same time, Traore is not known to suffer from schizophrenia or similar mental health issues that can be aggravated by marijuana use.
If the appeal court finds that Traore is unfit to stand trial, the remaining options include sending him to a drug treatment program, or even releasing him back into the community outright.