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Political outcry follows suspected murder

Police found the body of a 34-year-old prison therapist in the woods near Geneva on Friday Keystone

After a convict escaped from a canton Geneva prison and is suspected of re-offending by killing his therapist on Thursday, many Swiss politicians have urgently called for reform of the justice system.

This content was published on September 15, 2013 - 13:26
swissinfo.ch and agencies

On Thursday, the convict met his therapist for their weekly horse riding therapy session. On the way to the session, the therapist stopped with the suspect at a knife store in Geneva because he had received permission from prison officials to purchase a special knife in order to clean out horses’ hooves.

He is suspected of buying a different knife instead and using it to kill his 34-year-old therapist; her body was found in the forest near Geneva on Friday.

The suspect was arrested in the Polish-German border area on Sunday, the cantonal prosecutor's office said on Sunday night, confirming earlier media reports. He was caught driving the white Citröen that was used to escort him from the prison toward the equestrian centre, justice officials said.

Swiss authorities are seeking to have the suspect extradited to Geneva where he faces charges of murder, confinement and theft.

Cantonal laws differ

Currently, every Swiss canton has different laws about how to punish offenders and how to treat them while they are serving their sentences. Following two recent cases of re-offense with deadly consequences – this most recent case and that of 19-year-old Marie, killed in May by her boyfriend who was serving out his murder sentence under house arrest – politicians have cried out for a standardised nationwide justice system and database of sex offenders.

“Our justice system has a lot of concern for convicts,” canton Vaud’s security director and cantonal parliamentarian Jacqueline de Quattro told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. “They get a lot of attention and care.”

But, she says, that’s often at the expense of public safety, especially in French-speaking Switzerland where cantonal laws are seen as more convict-friendly. Now, de Quattro and others are calling for nationwide reform of the justice system, or at least for unified reform in French-speaking Switzerland.

“This case shows that we need a national oversight system: the three justice systems in our country (northwest and central Switzerland, eastern Switzerland and Italian and French-speaking Switzerland) need to be unified and standards need to be established for the treatment of dangerous offenders,” echoes Beat Villiger, vice president of the cantonal conference of justice and police directors, in the SonntagsBlick tabloid.

And Anita Chaaban, whose nationwide initiative for lifelong imprisonment for certain offenders found guilty of sexual and violent crimes passed in a 2004 vote, told the SonntagsZeitung that plans for a new initiative are in the works. This time, she is calling for a nationwide offender database that doesn’t erase crimes committed several decades ago.

Although politicians from all sides of the political spectrum are calling for reform, André Kuhn, assistant professor of criminology and criminal law at the University of Lausanne, pointed out on Swiss radio that the "La Pâquerette" prison, where the suspect now on the loose was being held, has had thousands of cases with very good results for every case as dramatic as this one.

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