Mexican judge seeks to free jailed French woman

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 07, 2012 5:25 PM
Mexican judge seeks to free jailed French woman

By Ioan Grillo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican Supreme Court judge has proposed freeing a French woman serving a 60-year prison sentence for kidnapping, though his motion needs the backing of at least two others on a five-member panel determining her fate.

Judge Arturo Zaldivar said in his motion that Florence Cassez, 37, was denied her rights, not given a fair trial, and that witness statements used to convict her of kidnapping and other crimes in 2008 were unreliable.

The case has caused tension between France and Mexico.

Zaldivar's motion centers on a filmed recreation showing police freeing kidnapping victims and arresting Cassez and others who were portrayed as members of a gang called the Zodiacs. The video was shot after her arrest in Mexico City in late 2005 and aired on television as a real raid.

Federal police said the Zodiacs were led by Cassez's Mexican boyfriend at the time and that she was a member of the gang.

In his motion, Zaldivar also noted that Cassez was not offered consular assistance or put in front of a prosecutor immediately after the arrest.

"Consequently, the motion establishes there was a violation of the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence of Cassez," the Supreme Court said in a statement. "A supposed recreation of things that never took place without doubt had an impact on public opinion and on all those linked to the trial."

The case sparked a furor in France, where many see Cassez as a victim of injustice.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking a second term in an April 22 election, has promised Cassez's parents that

he will seek justice in the case and is asking Mexico to transfer her to a French prison. That request has been denied.

The five Mexican Supreme Court judges will vote on the motion within two weeks, an official at the court said. A vote of three judges will be enough to free Cassez.

"This motion gives us a ray of hope," Cassez's defense lawyer, Agustin Acosta, told Reuters. "The case is very clear. I am sure the court will free her."

Some Mexican anti-crime activists have opposed her release, arguing that a message must be sent to kidnappers and France should not meddle with Mexico's justice system.

Mexico has seen kidnappings for ransom, in which abductors often torture and mutilate victims, spiral out of control in recent years.

In 2011, Mexico canceled a year-long series of films and performances in France after Sarkozy said the events would be dedicated to Cassez.

(Editing by Paul Simao)