A two-way argument. And in the end, a single message addressed to the Assize Court asking it not to send a man to prison, even a terrorist, for the rest of his life. “To judge well is difficult. You will need a lot of courage. We will have to be ready to suffer the wrath of public opinion and the media,” launches Me Martin Vettes. “Justice is not a crowd movement”, adds Me Olivia Ronen.
Strong and solemn words for these two lawyers who, for nine months, faced a crushing burden: defending Salah Abdeslam in a trial where he often attracted all eyes. Two defenders who, this Friday, June 24, throw their last strength into battle to denounce the sentence “cruel” required by the national anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office: life imprisonment with an incompressible security sentence.
It is the crowd of great days at the Paris Court of Assizes. Lawyers, journalists and civil parties came in large numbers to listen to the last two defense pleadings. Above all, that of Me Ronen, this young and brilliant criminal lawyer, experienced in terrorist cases, who in 2018 agreed to defend the only accused whose name all of France knows: Salah Abdeslam.
But Me Vettes is the first to step forward. His argument is precise, square, effective. Like his role in this trial where he formed a very tight duo with Me Ronen. “Contrary to what some feared, Salah Abdeslam did not transform the trial to dump IS propaganda,” observes Me Vettes before speaking of this moment when the accused apologized and cried. “We said it was a defense strategy. But his apologies and those tears were neither planned nor premeditated. They were spontaneous and sincere. »
Then Me Vettes tries to convince that the accused was indeed a sort of last-minute guest in these attacks. He highlights the compartmentalization of the November 13 cell. “For the project to succeed, very few people had to know about everything,” says Mr Vettes. “Salah Abdeslam is not a sociopath who would have found in the Islamic State something to satisfy his criminal impulses or an enlightened man from the depths of the Middle Ages”, launches the lawyer by describing his client as a “Daesh interim” who only participated in “one-off assignments”.
Then comes the turn of Me Ronen. Some were perhaps expecting breath, lyricism, flights of fancy. But the young lawyers, “bottle-fed” with heavy files earth », are rather of the type to refuse the effects of the handle of the old ones. The file, nothing but the file, that is what must be dissected at the bar. It’s dense, sometimes sharp, but that’s also justice before professional magistrates. Above all, Olivia Ronen insists on a crucial point in her eyes: the renunciation of Salah Abdeslam on the evening of November 13.
“Maybe he gave up just because he was afraid of dying”
At the hearing, he explained that that evening he entered a café on 18e district and that he renounced by “humanity” after seeing young people “dancing and laughing”. Me Ronen knows that this thesis did not convince everyone. “She was mocked” she laments. “Maybe he just gave up because he was afraid of dying. I don’t rule it out. The notion of humanity sometimes begins with oneself.believes the lawyer, who speaks of a ” startle “, of one “bite of conscience”. “Salah Abdeslam has withdrawn. This essential data cannot but weigh in your decision”, launches Me Ronen to the court.
But it is above all the sentence required by the prosecution that the two lawyers want to talk about and the message thus sent by the prosecution to the main defendants. “You wanted to die for ideas? Then it will be a slow death…” says Me Ronen who, at this moment, finds this breath that freezes an entire audience. “The penalty of incompressibility is a terrible penalty. Unlike the death penalty, it is a white death that is lived in indifference,” affirms the lawyer who, like several of her colleagues, denounces the conditions of detention of her client.
“This trial is not the continuation of the war against terrorism by other means. However, the prosecution asks you to permanently neutralize an enemy via condemnation to a social death penalty”, indignant Mr. Vettes. But the last words go to his colleague. “If you follow the prosecution, it will mean that terrorism has won and that all this [le procès] will have been nothing but a vast farce”