France awakes to murder trial of another shy girl

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A CASE of judicial deja vu will sweep France when the trial of a shy, teenage, suburban girl who committed murder with her boyfriend begins near Paris today.

The case of Veronique Herbert bears several startling resemblances to the trial of Florence Rey, who was convicted last week of involvement in four murders and sent to jail for 20 years. In both cases, a previously well-behaved but melancholic teenager committed a heinous crime, in collusion with a boyfriend, without a clear motive. In both cases, there are allegations that the Oliver Stone film, Natural Born Killers, may have influenced the murderers. In another twist, the two young women have come to know each other well, while awaiting their respective trials, in the Fleury- Merogis prison south of Paris. Rey wrote and directed plays for the prison theatre; Ms Herbert made the scenery. But there is one key difference between the cases.

Rey, 19 when she embarked on her muddled but murderous robbery and car chase in 1994, appears to have acted under the influence of her domineering boyfriend. Ms Herbert was 18 when, it is alleged, she was the prime mover in the repeated stabbing and smothering of a 16-year-old boy in March 1996.

Her boyfriend, Sebastien, 17 at the time, claims to have acted under her influence. He also goes on trial today. The victim, a friend called Abdeladim, was lured to Sebastien's bedroom with the promise of sex with Ms Herbert. When both were naked, Sebastien stabbed the boy in the neck. The two accused have admitted taking turns to stab the victim - 39 times in all - before stuffing his mouth with handkerchiefs to smother him. They buried his body under a flagstone in the garden, fled to the countryside and were finally arrested 300 miles away.

"I tried to tell her at first that I wasn't very happy about killing Abdel," Sebastien told investigators in a report leaked to the French press. "She said that, if I didn't want to do it, she had another friend, Julien ... In the end, I tried to act like the person that she thought I was."