In a trial seen as a gauge of French judicial opinion towards the Vichy regime, Christian Didier, a failed writer and Jack-of all-trades from eastern France, was yesterday found guilty of murdering Rene Bousquet, chief of police in occupied France. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The sentence, handed down after a week-long trial, was one of the lightest that could be imposed for murder, but disappointed the defence, which hoped for an acquittal on moral and psychiatric grounds. Didier, a slight, grey-haired figure, sighed from the dock when the verdict was announced.
There was never much doubt that Didier had killed Bousquet. He boasted of the shooting at a press conference immediately afterwards, on 8 June 1993. But there was doubt about his state of mind, as psychiatric reports said he was "responsible" to plead but suffered a personality disorder, and about whether the killing was "morally justified". Bousquet is believed to have given orders that sent thousands of French Jews to their death in concentration camps in 1942 and 1943.
On the final day of a trial in which the victim had been almost as strong a presence as the defendant, the jury heard a plea for the rehabilitation of Bousquet from his son, Guy. Drawing on his own memories and records of a 1949 court case in which Bousquet was convicted of acts committed during the German occupation, but released because of help given to the Resistance, Mr Bousquet Jr said his father had been "persecuted" by the media and "demonised" by Serge Klarsfeld, the Nazi-hunter.
But he called for "a measure of indulgence" to be shown towards Didier, saying the murder of his 84-year-old father was seen by the family as a "far lesser evil" than the "moral assassination" of his father by the press and Nazi-hunters.
Mr Bousquet said his father's killing had deprived the country of a real "trial of Vichy". At the time of his death, Bousquet was awaiting a trial for war crimes instigated by Mr Klarsfeld. Guy, a lawyer by profession, was to defend him.
While arguing that a guilty verdict would "effectively absolve the Vichy regime", Didier's lawyers played down the moral aspect and concentrated on his state of mind. They described him as "a man with a mission". Didier's behaviour in the dock supported their decision. But the argument about responsibility for the Vichy regime's acts was not resolved.