Mexico quashes Frenchwoman's kidnap charge
By Alexandra Alper, ReutersMEXICO CITY -- Mexico's top court freed a Frenchwoman convicted of kidnapping on Wednesday, ruling that her trial was tainted and ending a seven-year imprisonment that strained ties with France.
January 25, 2013, 12:36 am TWN
Florence Cassez, 38, was sentenced to 60 years in prison after she was arrested in 2005 at a ranch near Mexico City with her former boyfriend, who led a kidnapping gang called the Zodiacs.
Supreme Court Judge Jorge Pardo ordered her release during a televised court session, which at one point looked to be going against Cassez.
Hours later, she was whisked from a Mexico City prison in a vehicle flanked by police trucks to the capital's international airport where she was put on an Air France plane back home.
Cassez, who had maintained she was innocent, and her father were both pictured wearing black flak jackets as they left the prison.
“It's an explosion of joy. It's wonderful,” Charlotte Cassez, her mother, told French television.
“It's not far from being the best day of my life. We've been waiting for so long. She deserves it. She is innocent and has fought to prove that. It's a victory for her.”
The French government had sharply criticized Mexico for its treatment of Cassez and welcomed her release on Wednesday.
Outside the Mexican prison, however, relatives of kidnap victims wept as Cassez was freed.
“She's out, she's out,” cried Michelle Valadez, who accused Cassez of being involved in her husband's kidnapping and screamed “murderer” as she lunged at the vehicle. “What about us?” she asked on local television.
After her arrest, police made Cassez take part in a staged scene of officers freeing kidnap victims. She was portrayed as a kidnapper in the re-enacted event, which was aired on national television. Police subsequently admitted wrongdoing.
A judge sentenced her in 2008 following a closed-door trial with no jury, typical of most cases in Mexico.
Her lawyers said Cassez was denied immediate consular assistance when she was arrested and that the evidence of key witnesses should be thrown out. A majority of the Supreme Court judges agreed, without saying she was innocent.
In March, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to release Cassez immediately but opened the door to a review on Wednesday, which had initially been intended to discuss a motion to invalidate some of the evidence used to convict her.