Briton in 'Lady in the Lake' murder trial gets 12 years jail
A court in southern France Friday sentenced a Briton accused of killing his wife and dumping her body in a lake near their home in the rural Tarn region to 12 years in prison.
Robert Lund, 59, who had proclaimed his innocence, was found guilty of violence that led to death without intending to commit murder -- involuntary manslaughter. The case has been dubbed "The Lady in the Lake" by the British press.
The family of his wife Evelyn Lund broke down in tears when the verdict was announced.
Chief prosecutor Jean-Louis Bec had insisted in his closing arguments that Lund had killed his wife and callously stuffed her blood-covered body into her car which he pushed into Lake Bancalie. He had asked for an 18- to 20-year jail sentence.
Lund, a British tree surgeon, was on trial in southern France for the third time, having appealed against his 2007 conviction for involuntary manslaughter.
Lund reported his 52-year-old wife Evelyn missing on New Year's Day 2000, telling investigators he believed she had an accident after drinking heavily and setting off to visit friends.
Her body was found in her car two years later when a drought lowered the water level of the lake.
The Lunds moved to the Tarn region, home to a large British expatriate community, in 1997 and rebuilt a farmhouse in the village of Rayssac.
As testimony in the case wrapped up on Friday, Evelyn's family painted a picture of Lund as an abusive husband who coveted his wife's money, inherited from a first husband who died of cancer.
The family has accused Lund of being after Evelyn's life insurance, the policy for which was changed in 1996 to make him the sole beneficiary, cutting out her three daughters.
"Robert was very physical with my mum but he was also torturing her mentally," said Evelyn's daughter Elizabeth Taylor, who along with her twin Patricia, both 42, testified on Friday.
Elizabeth said that often when the family called Lund could be heard "shouting and screaming in the background".
She said her mother had been considering divorce but that Lund warned her that "he would get half the house and try to get most of her pensions".
Asked about evidence presented earlier that he had discussed financial matters shortly after his wife's death, Lund told the court he was distressed and not thinking clearly.
"If one of your loved ones disappeared, would you follow a procedure A B C D?" he said. "Nothing was normal at that time".
Lund also told the court that "a charge on murder does not mean a murder has taken place."
"All you have heard are speculations and lies which all have their roots in family emotions."
Evelyn's brother, Gerard Wilkinson, told the court the family had suffered a "huge burden and distress" during her disappearance and subsequent trials.
"Evelyn's disappearance, the discovery of her body, the long investigation, three trials, have placed an unbearable stress on the family," he said.
Lund's lawyer, Apollinaire Legros-Gimbert, had argued earlier in the week that there were enough uncertainties in the case, including over the cause of Evelyn's death, to raise hopes of an acquittal.
Legros-Gimbert admitted that his client was taking a risk with the new trial as he could be found guilty on the more serious charge of murder and face longer in prison.
He said the fact Lund was willing to take that risk was evidence of his innocence.
© 2011 AFP