An American male nurse accidentally caused the death by asphyxiation of the millionaire banker Edmond Safra when a hare-brained attempt to impress his boss went tragically wrong, a court in Monaco decided yesterday.
Ted Maher, 44, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after admitting he started the fire which killed his employer and another nurse three years ago in a muddled plot to make himself look like a hero.
After a 10-day trial, the Monaco criminal court rejected suggestions that the confused and slow reaction of the Monaco police and fire brigade contributed to the death of the 67-year-old banker and his nurse, Vivien Torrente, 52.
Maher set fire to a waste paper bin in M. Safra's apartment and stabbed himself in his stomach and thigh after telling his employer that he was being attacked by a criminal "commando" unit. He bundled the banker and his nurse into a bathroom and raised the alarm, intending to claim the credit for fighting off the attackers.
The fire spread rapidly through the apartment, while police and firemen struggled with security doors and waited for reinforcements to tackle a criminal gang, which did not exist. At one point, the police arrested and handcuffed M. Safra's chief bodyguard, thinking that he was an attacker.
A policeman spoke to M. Safra on a mobile telephone but was unable to persuade him to leave his sanctuary, the court heard. The Monaco chief prosecutor, Daniel Serdet, rejected suggestions from lawyers representing Maher, and the families of the victims, that the principality's emergency services were partly responsible for the deaths.
He also dismissed, without referring to them specifically, the many conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths. "There is no mystery here," M. Serdet said. "Maher was exclusively responsible for the deaths.The only mystery which remains is what was going on in head and what were his true motives".
Scientific evidence presented to the trial did, however, raise some facts which could not easily fit into the version of events broadly accepted by the defence and prosecution. The court was told that DNA traces from an unknown man were found under M. Safra's fingernails and that spots of the banker's blood were found on the bra and knickers of the dead nurse. Since there was no way of telling when, and in what circumstances, these came to be present, they should be ignored, the prosecutor said.
Maher, who was found guilty of "causing deaths by arson in an inhabited place", told the court he concocted a "stupid" plot to make himself appear a hero to his boss. M. Safra's family's lawyers suggested that he expected to be given a large sum of money for his heroism.
Elisabeth de Franceschi, a psychiatrist, told the court that Maher, a former US paratrooper, was an immature, ambitious man, who came to hero-worship M. Safra and could not bear the thought that others shared his affection. "He had an insatiable hunger for recognition ... He was driven by jealousy and competetiveness," she said.
M. Safra's security chief, Samuel Cohen, told the court he would have been able to save his boss but his route was barred by the Monaco police for a crucial 30 minutes.