New Gregory murder trial resolves nothing

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The Independent Online
THE father of four-year-old 'petit Gregory', who killed a cousin he believed had murdered his son, was given a five- year prison sentence yesterday for the killing.

The jury at the assize court in Dijon sentenced Jean-Marie Villemin to jail, with one year suspended. The prosecutor in the seven-week trial at which Villemin was charged with murdering Bernard Laroche, his cousin, had called for a 10- year sentence.

The verdict added another chapter to an unsavoury nine- year saga. Gregory's bound body was found in the Vologne river in eastern France on 16 October 1984. Laroche was charged with the murder, then released. Later, Christine Villemin, the boy's mother, was indicted for her son's murder, but charges against her were dropped in February.

In a tragedy crying out for a last act, the Villemin trial did little more than revive all the old passions of a family split by the murder. A review of the bad behaviour of all involved, from the justice system to the press, it reached no new conclusions and, worst of all, threw no new light on who killed the boy.

The Villemins' lawyer, Henri-Rene Garaud, asked the jury to acquit his client, pleading that he be allowed to spend Christmas with his wife and children. In an impassioned last speech, Villemin, who has always admitted he shot Laroche, begged not to go back to jail. 'I have had enough of suffering,' he shouted.

As he has spent a total of 33 months in prison since first being arrested for Laroche's murder in March 1985, the time left to serve should be short, assuming that Villemin is given the maximum remission.

Before Gregory's death, the Villemins were plagued for three years by an anonymous telephone-caller and letter- writer. On the day of Gregory's death but before his body had been found, Michel Villemin, an uncle, said an anonymous caller, known in France as a 'corbeau' or 'crow', had told him: 'I have taken revenge on the boss and I've kidnapped his son. I strangled him and threw him in the Vologne.'

One letter to Villemin, sent after the murder, read: 'I hope you will die of sorrow, chief. Your money cannot return your son to you. This is my revenge, you poor cretin.'

No firm clues to the identity of the 'crow' emerged, although suspicion fell on many members of the family. In court, it emerged that some recordings of the caller's voice had deteriorated to the point that they could no longer be analysed.

The investigation has become a byword for the ineptitude of the police and judges involved. It was handled by two different police forces and three examining magistrates. Jean-Michel Lambert, the first examining magistrate, charged Laroche three weeks after the murder based on evidence from his sister-in-law.

When the sister-in-law, an adolescent, withdrew her testimony, Mr Lambert released Laroche. On 29 March 1985, Villemin shot Laroche with a hunting rifle. Christine Villemin was charged with her son's killing in December 1986.