Mexico’s top court mulls jailed Frenchwoman’s fate

From Expatica

January, 22nd 2013


Mexico’s Supreme Court will decide Wednesday whether to give a path to freedom to a Frenchwoman serving a 60-year prison sentence for kidnapping, in a case that strained diplomatic ties.

Florence Cassez, 38, has claimed her innocence ever since federal police staged her arrest in an operation shown live on national television seven years ago on December 9, 2005.

Cassez was accused of being involved with a gang of kidnappers known as the Zodiacs, allegedly run by her ex-boyfriend Israel Vallarta.

Mexican television showed police storming Vallarta’s ranch, where they arrested her and freed three hostages.

Interviewed on the spot by Televisa, the slight, red-haired woman looked stunned as she said: “I have nothing to do with this. I’m not his wife. I didn’t know anything!”

It was later revealed that Cassez had been arrested on a road hours before the raid.

Supreme Court Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero proposed this month that the top court cancel the sentence and send the case back to the court of appeals, which would be obligated to take into account the higher court’s conclusions in its new ruling.

According to Mexican media, Sanchez argued that the staged arrest was a violation of several constitutional rights, including presumption of innocence and consular protection.

Sanchez also wants most of the evidence thrown out, including the testimony of two of the kidnap victims, Cristina Rios Valladares and her son Christian Hilario Ramirez Rios, who mentioned Cassez for the first time two months after the operation (and after the fake rescue operation staged by the federal police had been revealed)

Her Mexican attorney, Agustin Acosta, said the appeals court would not have a deadline to rule but that it “should not take very long.”

“If the Supreme Court cancels her sentence, it would have to take into account the fact that she is a young woman who has already been in prison for seven years in the context of a sentence that was declared wrongful,” Acosta told AFP.

The lawyer said the court may also decide to order Cassez’s immediate release if a majority of justices vote that way. But a deadlock could send the case up to the full 11-member Supreme Court, where a decision would be less predictable.

The Supreme Court already examined her case last year, but the panel was split on whether to release her, even though four of the five justices them agreed that there were irregularities in the case.

Her treatment caused a diplomatic spat in February 2011, when Mexican authorities canceled a “Year of Mexico” cultural event in France after then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to dedicate the festivities to Cassez.

After meeting with Mexico’s new President Enrique Pena Nieto in October, his French counterpart Francois Hollande said that he was confident the Supreme Court would “put an end to this painful situation.”

Mexican justice says Cassez case decision coming in August

Fox News Latino

May 31, 2012

Mexican Supreme Court justice Olga Sanchez Cordero said in a television interview broadcast here Thursday that the case of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping in Mexico, will be decided in August.

Sanchez Cordero also reiterated in her remarks to French news channel BFMTV that she believes Cassez’s rights were violated by Mexican authorities and that, as a consequence, she should be set free.

“The matter will surely be resolved before the second half of August,” the justice said.

On March 21, she was one of two Supreme Court justices who supported a motion to immediately free Cassez. The other three justices rejected the motion, although the five-judge panel found serious rights violations in her trial and called for the evidence in her case to be reviewed.

Cassez was arrested on Dec. 8, 2005, on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway along with her boyfriend, Israel Vallarta, the suspected leader of the Los Zodiaco kidnapping gang.

A day later, agents from the now-defunct AFI, Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, staged a mock raid so TV cameras could film the arrest of the gang members in a wooded area near Mexico City.

The motion presented to the high court in March stated that the delay in handing Cassez, now 37, over to prosecutors and informing the French Consulate of her arrest violated her rights.

The Frenchwoman has proclaimed her innocence from the beginning, denying that she participated in kidnappings, and the case has sparked tensions between Mexico and France.

Polls in Mexico, which suffers one of the world’s highest kidnapping rates, show most people want Cassez to remain in prison.

Senior Mexican judge says Frenchwoman Cassez should go free

10 May 2012

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Frenchwoman imprisoned for participating in a kidnapping ring in Mexico should be released, according to the Mexican judge in charge of reviewing a case that has caused a rift between the two nations, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

Judge Olga Sanchez is one of five Supreme Court judges weighing the case of Florence Cassez, 37, who was convicted in 2008 in a closed trial. Cassez was arrested by authorities with her ex-boyfriend on a ranch near Mexico City in 2005.

The Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court, in March rejected a proposal by one of Sanchez’s fellow judges to release Cassez, but it said the evidence needed to be re-assessed, leaving Sanchez in charge of tabling a new motion to resolve the sentencing.

“For me, as I said, and I don’t want to prejudice the case, she should be released,” Sanchez told the Excelsior newspaper in a report published on Thursday.

“This is what I think for many reasons,” she added. “And now that I’ve delved into the file, I have many more reasons.”

She did not give provide additional details.

Sanchez had voted for the Frenchwoman’s release in March, but the judges have said little since then. Her comments before the new motion has been announced are unusual in Mexico.

Three of the judges in March voted against freeing Cassez, but all but one picked holes in the legal process that convicted her, which involved a televised police recreation of her arrest which was heavily criticized.

Cassez was portrayed as a kidnapper in the restaged event, which was aired on national television as if it were a real event. Police have since admitted their wrongdoing.

At the trial, one of the kidnap victims testified Cassez had threatened to cut his finger off, but she denied the accusation.

The Mexican government has backed her conviction. Polls show a majority of Mexicans share that view.

Anti-crime groups have also opposed freeing Cassez, saying it would be an insult to the victims of kidnapping in a nation where many of the guilty go unpunished. Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of kidnapping.

Some leading intellectuals have called for Cassez’s release and say the case illustrates Mexico’s failed justice system.

(Reporting by Lorne Matalon; Editing by Paul Simao)