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Special court begins hearing 83-year-old murder case

Special court begins hearing 83-year-old murder case

The grandson of a convicted murderer who died more than a half-century ago pleaded for judges on a special French court re-examining the 1923 murder case to use their hearts to determine whether the conviction was just.
Dennis Seznec urged the judges to right what he called a historical wrong and exonerate his grandfather, Guillaume Seznec, who was sentenced to a life of hard labor for the murder of woodcutter and local official Pierre Quemeneur _ whose body was never found.
"You do not have only rationality, you also have the law and the heart," Seznec told judges. "There are, very rarely, great moments where history and justice meet."
The Seznec family has spent decades working to clear the name of Guillaume Seznec, who proclaimed his innocence until his death in 1954.
Quemeneur, a local official of Brittany's Finistere region in western France, was last seen the night of May 25, 1923, when he left the Breton town of Morlaix on a trip to Paris with Seznec. Quemeneur's body was never found.
Seznec was convicted and sentenced the following year to a life of hard labor in the penal colony in French Guiana, on the northeastern tip of South America. He benefited from a French tradition of presidential pardons, receiving one in 1946, and returned to France. He died in 1954 at the age of 75 after being struck in a hit-and-run car accident.
The old murder case was revived after a special judicial commission heard arguments in January 2005 for a review of the case, and the prosecutor concluded that new evidence cast doubt on the guilty verdict.
A major piece of evidence in Seznec's conviction was a typewritten document in which, two days before his death, Quemeneur promised to sell his land to Seznec, providing the illusion of a setup once Quemeneur disappeared. However, Jean-Yves Launay, prosecutor of the judicial commission, citing "police machinations," said there were new elements indicating a setup by the local police chief and suggesting the document was false.
The Court of Revision was to spend the day re-examining the case. Its verdict was not expected for three to four weeks.
The commission was convened on a request in 2001 by the justice minister at the time, Marylise Lebranchu, who cited persistent doubts about the verdict. Lebranchu is from the same Brittany region as the Seznec family.
Between 1852 and 1946, France sent 70,000 prisoners to French Guiana, forcing them to mine for gold and cut wood in the forests of the remote South American territory. The horrors of the prisons were dramatized in former prisoner Henri Charriere's memoirs, "Papillon," which recounted conditions in the colony and was made into the 1973 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.


Updated : 2021-07-29 04:34 GMT+08:00