The controversial trial of an escaped convict suspected of killing his prison therapist reopened in Geneva on Monday, in a case that highlights public safety concerns about the rehabilitation of prisoners in Switzerland.
The suspect, identified publicly by most Swiss news media only as Fabrice A., is accused of slitting the throat of the social therapist who was accompanying him on a horse-riding excursion outside his detention centre in September 2013.
That he was allowed to travel alone with his social therapist, a 34-year-old woman named Adeline M. who was the mother of an eight-month-old child, caused shockwaves across Switzerland and spurred a debate about the treatment of serious offenders while they are serving their sentences.
At the time, the defendant was serving a 20-year sentence for two rape convictions. If convicted this time, he faces the prospect of life imprisonment.
The case first came to trial in 2016 but was abruptly postponed following accusations by the defence counsel that the judges lacked impartiality. The magistrates, it was found, had demonstrated bias in seeking to hear the evidence of a third psychiatric expert, even though two expert statements were made available.
Eight months later, the trial is reopening with new judges. It is starting from square one. Witnesses will be heard all over again, and statements from the previous trial – including the defendant’s eventual admission that the murder was premeditated – are now moot.
Conditions of internment
Laws vary among Swiss cantons about prisoner treatment. Some are considered too lax or convict-friendly. Following the killing, some politicians called for a standardised nationwide justice system as well as a common database of sex offenders.
Others questioned the role of the correctional facility where Fabrice A. was held. On the day of Adeline M.’s killing, her alleged murderer is believed to have tied her to a tree and slit her throat with a knife that he asked for and received to clean horses’ hooves.
A formal investigation found that the suspect should not have been allowed to leave the rehabilitation centre on the day in question. As a result, new rules were put in place that require the prison’s security director to approve every trip outside the prison by a dangerous inmate.
At the reopening of the trial, a key issue revolves around the former prison director who has been on sick leave for several months. The woman has a medical certificate to excuse her from court, and the judges question the relevance of ordering her to appear as a witness.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/dos