Attorney Says Barbie Should Be Set Free Regardless of Verdict

A legal stratagem by which Klaus Barbie’s attorney hopes to get the former Lyon Gestapo chief released from prison whether or not he is convicted of crimes against humanity was disclosed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Sunday.

Attorney Jacques Verges said he would make a formal plea for Barbie’s release when the trial resumes ### yon Monday. Verges told the JTA that under French criminal law a person convicted more than once for crimes committed during the same period of time can serve only the most severe of the sentences imposed. Barbie was convicted in absentia of war crimes and sentenced to death in 1952, a penalty he evaded by finding haven in Bolivia.

The 20-year statute of limitations on war crimes convictions expired 15 years ago. Verges claims that since capital punishment was abolished in France in 1981, Barbie now faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. According to Verges, “all lesser sentences will now have to be encompassed by the 1952 verdict in spite of the fact it can no longer be applied. Such is the law. Barbie will have to be set free after his trial ends,” he told the JTA.

Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini is expected to rule on Verges’ plea when the trial ends, possibly on July 3 or 4. The prosecution and lawyers for individual plaintiffs are likely to argue that since the 1952 sentence was never carried out, it cannot encompass lesser sentences.

But court officials acknowledged that a difficult legal tangle is in the offing and will probably be resolved on the basis of precedents–if any can be found.

Barbie, the wartime “butcher of Lyon,” went on trial there on May 11. He claimed at the outset that he was “kidnapped” to France and was being tried illegally. On May 13 he asked to be returned to his prison cell and, except for a brief appearance to be formally identified by witnesses, he has boycotted the proceedings. French law does not require a defendant to be present in court during the trial.

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