Jumat, 30 Oktober 2009

DNA evidence could solve mystery of Grégory Villemin's death

A portrait of four-year-old Gregory Villemin is seen on his tomb at the Lepanges-sur-Vologne,
France cemetery in the Vosges region in this 1987 photo

On an overcast October afternoon in 1984, four-year-old Grégory Villemin disappeared from the sandbox where he was playing near his home in rural eastern France.

A few hours later, while the police and his parents searched desperately, someone telephoned his uncle. “I've taken my revenge,” the caller said. “I've killed the child.”

Grégory's body, his wrists and feet bound with rope, was fished from a nearby river that night, setting off a sensational murder mystery that gripped France for years. It spawned a deadly family feud, a second killing, charges of judicial and police misconduct, a spate of slander suits and a flood of books and movies.

But, for all the publicity and attention, the case was never solved.

Now, 25 years later, a new DNA analysis of evidence locked away for years in a police storeroom has once again made the “little Grégory affair” front-page news.

Using tests and techniques unknown at the time of the crime, scientists have isolated traces of DNA on an anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the boy's murder. Investigators believe that letter was sent by the same person, or persons, who had been mailing threats to the Villemin family for at least a year before Grégory's death.

The discovery has raised hopes of a resolution to the case, which was reopened officially late last year after his parents pleaded with the court to re-examine the murder in light of advances in DNA analysis and forensics.

Prosecutors and genetic sleuths are urging caution, saying that isolating DNA on crime-scene evidence was only a first step in what could still be a long and possibly fruitless search for the killer.

“The principal risk in this case is that the evidence has been contaminated by people who handled it after the crime,” said Jean-Paul Moisan, director of a DNA testing institute in Nantes that unsuccessfully looked for traces on Grégory's clothing and other crime-scene items in 2000.

The letter had been kept in good condition, in a dry dark place, over the years. But Mr. Moisan, in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, warned that the letter was probably handled by postal clerks, police officers, judges, handwriting experts and journalists who may have left their own DNA on it.

An initial analysis of the letter, which was mailed to Grégory's grandfather nine months after his death, appeared to put to rest at least one suspicion that long shadowed the case.

A judge in Dijon, who is overseeing the new investigation, said that a man's DNA was found on the letter and a woman's DNA was uncovered under the stamp on the envelope. Neither trace, he said, was a match with either of the boy's parents.

Grégory's mother, Christine Villemin, at one point was arrested for his murder. The charges were dropped, but not before Mrs. Villemin became the object of much pseudo-analysis by French intellectuals and journalists. She went on to accuse other family members of complicity in her son's death in her own book.

The first person to be charged, though, was Bernard Laroche, a cousin of the boy's father. He was arrested after his 15-year-old sister-in-law told police she had seen him lure Grégory away from home on the day he died. Mr. Laroche denied it and the girl later recanted.

But he did not survive long enough to defend himself in court. Five months after the murder, while at home awaiting trial, Grégory's father, Jean-Marie Villemin, stalked him and shot him dead with a rifle.

Mr. Villemin was convicted and spent nearly four years in prison. A court later found that the local police were negligent in not protecting Mr. Laroche.

A number of French newspapers, writers and journalists who wrote about them all were sued for slander repeatedly over the years by both the Laroche and Villemin families.

The investigating judge said the new DNA evidence would first be used to look for a match among the initial suspects in the case. But eventually it could be tested against a national data base that contains one million entries with the DNA of people arrested and convicted of crimes.

Resource : www.theglobeandmail.com

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