French judge reopens 24-year-old murder case
The gruesome murder case of a four-year-old boy, otherwise known as “Little Gregory”, will be reopened to allow for new DNA tests.
4 December 2008
DIJON – One of France's darkest murder cases, the gruesome killing of a four-year-old boy a quarter century ago, was reopened Wednesday in the hope new DNA testing can help solve the mystery.
Gregory Villemin was found tied up and drowned in the Vologne river, in a bleak area of the Vosges mountains in eastern France, in October 1984.
A day later, a poison-pen letter arrived at the home of the child's parents - who had been receiving anonymous hate mail since 1981 - claiming responsibility for the murder, and calling it "revenge."
The killing sparked a 17-year legal saga that transfixed the French public and tabloid press, but was wrapped up in 2001 after failing to identify either Gregory's murderer or the sender of the mysterious letters.
An appeal court in eastern Dijon agreed Wednesday to a request from Christine and Jean-Marie Villemin, who both served time in prison in connection with their son's killing, to have the case reopened to allow for new DNA tests.
Lawyers Marie-Christine Chastant-Morand and Thierry Moser said the decision would give new "hope" to Gregory's parents in their "tireless fight in search of the truth".
Investigators will use the latest technology to search for traces of DNA and micro-DNA on evidence seized in the probe, which is well-preserved despite the quarter-century interval.
Sealed items shown to reporters in court include Gregory's hat, anorak and tracksuit, the rope used to bind his hands and feet, an insulin syringe found at the crime scene and the letters sent to his parents.
The test results are expected in May or June next year, Moser said.
But he warned success was "far from certain, even if science and genetics in particular has made considerable recent progress."
A first round of DNA tests carried out eight years ago at the parents' request on a stamp on one of the letters yielded no new clues.
The death of "Little Gregory", as he became known, sparked one of France's most notorious post-war murder mysteries, as police sought to untangle a web of family hatreds and local jealousies.
A cousin of the child's father, Bernard Laroche, was charged a month after the murder, based on evidence given by a teenaged sister-in-law.
But he was released from custody after she withdrew her claims, only to be shot dead in 1985 by Jean-Marie Villemin, who spent two and a half years in prison for the crime.
Later that year, Christine Villemin was charged with her son's murder. She was finally cleared eight years later and all charges against her dropped.
The couple now live with their two children near the town of Etampes south of Paris, where Jean-Marie works as a technician for a car parts supplier. They continue to insist Laroche was responsible for the killing.
A lawyer for Laroche's widow Marie-Ange has called for the case to be fully reopened to establish his innocence.
[AFP / Expatica]