“Of course these attacks were cruel! But justice should not be! Mr. President, Ladies of the Court, unlike my colleague, I am not asking you for courage. I simply ask you to apply the law with all the rigor that your conscience requires! » At the start of her argument, Olivia Ronen’s voice could seem a bit hoarse, as if tinged with a hint of discouragement or fear, but this time, Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer imposes her authority on a full house. Victims, lawyers, journalists, no one would dream of interrupting him. “Justice is not a crowd moment, she continues. If you follow the prosecutor’s office, terrorism won and we won’t have to understand that this was all a joke! »
For a real terrorist, you needed a real defense. This Friday, June 24 afternoon, she is there. Olivia Ronen and Martin Vettes are the last to plead. The two young Parisian criminal lawyers began to assist Salah Abdeslam a few months before the start of the hearing. They accompany him every day of this trial which began last September. Against him, an incompressible sentence of life imprisonment was requested by the national anti-terrorism prosecution. This is the heaviest penalty in the French Penal Code, claimed “in view of the immense gravity of the facts” and its complicity in the attacks carried out by the commandos of the Islamic State group on November 13, 2015.
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At the November 13 trial, heavy and nuanced requisitions against a torn curtain
What can be said after 146 days of hearings, 29 other defense pleadings and in the face of such a considerable expectation of justice? Olivia Ronen, who puts forward as a key to the trial the fact that Salah Abdeslam has, as and when, hearings “cracked the armor”, must start well by talking about her. At 32, this former secretary of the Paris Lawyers Conference is the same age as Martin Vettes, her defense colleague. Also the same age as his client. Impossible task, he had to find the right distance here, follow our compass [qui] was to act in conscience” and, despite the initial temptation to be just a “wall”face a “audience that was overwhelming, complex and infuriating”.
Not so dumb
Nothing, in fact, happened as planned: the accused, who was sworn to be mute, finally consented to speak. After several provocations or challenges, he responded to two civil party lawyers and actively participated in the hearings. “When I met Salah Abdeslam in 2018, I thought there was something to do. That there was something buried but worth fighting for. If I had been told that the trial would have turned out this way, I would not have allowed myself so much hope., she will say later in a pleading started in a sluggish way but that it will end in a powerful way. It is true that the defense started from afar.
Salah Abdeslam on the evening of November 13: “I did not go to the end, I gave up activating my belt”
Today, the object is not to dispute the accusations of criminal terrorist associations, nor even of complicity in part of the facts of November 13th. It would be in vain. They are committed to debates. The more delicate task is the one theorized by the lawyer Thierry Lévy with whom Olivia Ronen started: undoing the elements that made “the bed of the accusation”fed by the investigation, by the silence of her client and by what she denounces as shortcuts that “give the impression that we have lost all sense of measure and the scale of penalties”.
A cafe for target
First the facts. Salah Abdeslam “had indeed targeted a café, located at an angle, in the 18e borough “, but he chose not to blow himself up. She takes up with conviction her thesis of a “renunciation out of humanity, not out of fear” and not, as the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office asserts, by the fact that the explosive belt was defective: “This burst of consciousness, this bite of consciousness” is, in the eyes of Olivia Ronen, to be credited to the terrorist, to ensure that he is not treated in the same way as “if he had pressed the push button and gone to the end of his martyrdom mission”.
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At the trial of November 13: “Don’t forget that he gave up blowing himself up”, plead the lawyers of Mohamed Abrini
Five days before the verdict, the strength of the argument is to open the debate on the sentence to be applied to Salah Abdeslam. Is it the incompressible life sentence – hitherto imposed on four defendants in France, only in cases of serial killers or rapes – which is appropriate? Certainly, it would have been surprising if the defense approved it. But this Friday, the arguments are struck as a democratic question: “This pain, the worst pain, castigates Olivia Ronen, is all the same the one we would have asked for against the real authors of the Bataclan! They are not there [tués dans les attaques]. But that’s good, we have one! »
“A crude legal fiction”
Legally, the lawyer protests that we retain the complicity of Salah Abdeslam on all the crimes of November 13, that is to say the Stade de France, the Bataclan and the terraces and not only at the Stade where he deposited the “human bombs” : “It is in defiance of all the rules and all the principles that the national anti-terrorist prosecution requires this complicity on the unique crime scene […] It’s a gross legal fiction.”. Speaking of detention and the future to consider, Olivia Ronen denounces “a terrible pain, a white death” who would make Salah Abdeslam a man “unrecoverable”, “fatalistic and simplistic vision”.
In two days, all the defendants in the box will have the floor for the last time, as provided for in the code of criminal procedure. The verdict should be delivered on Wednesday evening