'Praying mantis' gets 15 years

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PARIS - A court has sentenced Marie-Elisabeth Cons- Boutboul, a grandmother who fascinated France with her antics, to 15 years in jail for organising the murder of her son-in-law, writes Julian Nundy.

After a three-week trial which ended on Thursday evening, the jury at the Paris assize court found Cons-Boutboul, 69, described by the prosecuting counsel as 'a praying mantis', guilty of plotting the murder eight years ago of Jacques Perrot, her son-in-law.

Perrot, a lawyer, was a friend of Laurent Fabius, the then prime minister, who rushed to the scene of the crime when Perrot was shot dead in the stairwell of his block of flats on 27 December 1985. Perrot was the estranged husband of Darie Boutboul, then France's champion woman jockey, and had been at loggerheads with his in-laws over access to his son, Adrien. As the jury retired, Cons-Boutboul, sobbing, told Perrot's mother: 'Yvonne, I want to tell you what I told you on Adrien's sixth birthday. I swear on Adrien's head that I had nothing to do with Jacques' death.'

Mrs Perrot, talking to journalists outside the court, said this was another lie in the life of a woman depicted in court as a pathological mythomaniac. She said she and Cons- Boutboul had never had any such conversation. Perrot was killed after he was believed to have found out his mother-in- law had been barred from practising as a lawyer because she had embezzled from a charity which she represented.

She was arrested in October 1989 when the body of Bruno Dassac, a known crook, was found in the sea near Le Havre. Killed by a bullet to the head, Dassac was named by a taxi-driver as the man he had introduced to Cons-Boutboul when she had asked him to find someone to give Perrot 'a good beating'. Without a gunman or a gun, Bernard Prevost, the defence lawyer, said a history of mendacity did not make his client a murderer. Her most famous lie was telling her daughter her father was dead - the daughter believed her for years - to cover up Cons-Boutboul's divorce.

Summing up, Mr Prevost uttered the astonishing words: 'If I am frightened today, it is because my most formidable adversary is you . . . Your lies, your improbabilities, your dissembling, your obstinacy, your absence, you're not making the job easy, Madame Cons]' As the verdict was announced to an impassive Cons-Boutboul, observers in the public gallery applauded.