Me Archibald Celeyron was the first, this Friday morning, to plead. The lawyer demanded, from the popular jurors, the acquittal of Bouchaïb Mohib, 43, sentenced at first instance to 20 years’ imprisonment for the arrest, kidnapping, sequestration or arbitrary detention followed by the death of Mathieu Hocquet, this 22-year-old young man, found dead on July 13, 1999, in a ditch, north of Vierzon.
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For Me Celeyron, “it’s the only reasonable solution. And it won’t be a drama, nor a scandal. Judicial, the Mathieu Hocquet affair will have found an answer, 23 years later.”
Before rushing into the details of the procedure, Me Celeyron erected a rampart before the jurors who will have to deliberate in a few hours. “All the lights are red,” insisted the defense lawyer. “These defendants have maintained their innocence from day one with absolute consistency.” He demanded, from the jurors, “rigor and intransigence” and “even less the right to make mistakes. You cannot treat a case from 1999 as you can treat a case from 2019.”
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Me Celeyron did not hesitate to blacken all these years of procedure: “What is quite exceptional in this case is the context, this Vierzon swamp which is extremely stench, made of hatred, resentment , madness, rumors, drugs, cooked and annealed for twenty years, venomous. Everything has been contaminated. Everything has been poisoned. For years, this has infused Vierzon. To get out of this Vierzon sewer, you have to attach yourself to the most objective elements possible.”
The defense lawyer then reviewed the telephony at length, which, he stressed, “is not, in this file, a technical data but an intelligence value.”
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As for the declarations of Cyril Bourguignon, definitively condemned to twelve years of criminal imprisonment (he did not appeal unlike the three other defendants), who accuses himself and accuses the three other men retried on appeal, it is, a- he underlined, to the address of the jurors, “a human and suggestive testimony of an accused person. However, the accused people defend themselves and when we defend ourselves, we sometimes say mistakes because we think that we are going get away with it. So he’s someone who has an interest and you can’t use his statements as evidence.”
The Advocate General of the Nièvre Assize Court of Appeal, Vincent Bonnefoy, had requested, on Thursday evening, the same sentences as what the Cher Assize Court had decided a year ago, i.e. 18 years of regression for Samir Berkani and 20 years for Driss Belkhouribchia and Bouchaïb Mohib.
After the first pleading of Me Archibald Celeyron, defense lawyer, before the Nièvre Assize Court of Appeal, this Friday morning, Me Mathieu Chirez, the lawyer for Samir Berkani (42), took over .
Samir Berkani, was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment by the Cher Assize Court, in April 2021, for the arrest, kidnapping, kidnapping or arbitrary detention followed by the death of Mathieu Hocquet, this young man found dead, in Vierzon, on July 13, 1999.
Me Mathieu Chirez, lawyer for Samir Berkani. Drawing Franck Lemort.
“You have to start from scratch, in your decision-making process”
Me Chirez praised, from the outset, “the courage and objectivity” of the popular jurors who will, according to their intimate conviction, deliver a verdict over the fifteen days of this appeal trial which opened on Monday March 21 and after. the requisitions of the Advocate General, Vincent Bonnefoy. Thursday evening, the latter requested the same sentences as at first instance: 18 years of criminal imprisonment for Samir Berkani, 20 years for the two other defendants, presumed innocent, Bouchaïb Mohib and Driss Belkhouribchia.
For the defense lawyer, “you have to start from scratch, in your decision-making process. Because the presence of Samir Berkani, at the scene of the crime, on the night of July 12 to 13, 1999, is not supported by any material and technical element. Samir Berkani is here only because of Cyril Bourguignon’s statements.”
The latter, arrested in April 2017, implicated the three other defendants. He was sentenced at first instance to twelve years’ imprisonment. He did not appeal this decision.
Me Chirez scrutinized, as he had done throughout these fifteen days of hearing, the statements of several witnesses and above all, he questioned the credibility of Cyril Bourguignon.
“What interest would he have in lying? But what tells you,” insisted the lawyer, with the popular jurors, “that the attackers were necessarily four? Why weren’t they three? Or two Because, when I ask this question to the investigators, they answer me, that these are the statements of Cyril Bourguignon!
Me Mathieu Chirez also stopped on this witness who saw the attack, on the evening of July 12, while passing in front of the town hall of Vierzon. Heard ten times, including six times in 1999 and 2000, this witness never varied in his remarks. He explains that he saw two men dragging a third, two men with a size difference, one of the two, according to this witness, was potbellied.
“You will then have to ask yourself if, in 1999, there was a several centimeters difference between the sizes of Samir Berkani and Bouchaïb Mohib, the two men who, according to the declarations of Cyril Bourguignon, would have kidnapped Mathieu Hocquet, for the bring him to the car that Cyril Bourguignon was driving that evening, in which he was with Driss Belkhouribchia.
“It is not an injustice to the Hocquet family to say that we do not have the elements to condemn him”
Me Chirez could not fail to mention this ghost witness, called to the bar by the defense and who never came, because he had taken refuge in Morocco for several years to escape a prison sentence. Impossible for the defense not to cite this invisible man, quoted in this procedure and others. But that the Advocate General, Thursday evening, dismissed with a setback. As he mentioned, the anonymous witness, whose statements, in 2017, allow the reopening of the investigation. An anonymous witness for whom the defense requested, throughout the hearing, the possibility of being able to hear him. Especially since Samir Berkani, originally, had not been quoted in this anonymous information.
And to conclude: “It is not an injustice to the Hocquet family to say that we do not have the elements to condemn him.”
The defense lawyers, in the foreground, Me Marie-Alix Canu-Bernard, lawyer for Driss Belkhouribchia with Me Agnès Lowenstein. Drawing Franck Lemort.
“The rights of defense are not an offense to Mathieu”
The hearing resumed, this Friday at 1:30 p.m., with the argument of Me Agnès Lowenstein, one of the two lawyers for Driss Belkhouribchia (44 years old). The latter had been sentenced, at first instance, to twenty years of criminal imprisonment, for the arrest, kidnapping, kidnapping or arbitrary detention followed by the death of Mathieu Hocquet, in Vierzon, in July 1999.
“We have never disrespected the victim,” said Me Lowenstein, in the preamble to his argument, before the jurors of the Nevers Assize Court of Appeal. “The rights of the defense are not an offense to Mathieu. Throughout this hearing, we wanted answers, because the manifestation of the truth is important to us. We, defense lawyers, we have the right to know “.
And like the two previous lawyers who succeeded each other, this Friday morning, Me Lowenstein took up, one by one, the details of this procedure, to go, in hollow, in the smallest detail so that the jurors can get an idea more accurate facts. For example, pointed the finger, the lawyer, “why did we do a reconstruction in broad daylight on facts that take place at night?” She rejected any attempt “to have lit counterfires”, defended the lawyer, like any other temptation “to have wanted to cancel the trial.”
“Are you 300% sure he’s guilty?”
Me Marie-Alix Canu-Bernard, Driss Belkhouribchia’s second lawyer, concluded the part of the defense pleadings. As she said on Monday March 21, at the opening of the trial, “when things were badly done at the start, it’s hard to make up for it”. An investigation entrusted to the SRPJ of Orléans, itself divested by an examining magistrate in favor of the investigators of the gendarmerie and, when the file was reopened, the investigation again entrusted to the SRPJ.
Looking at the popular jurors, the lawyer said to them, in a confessional tone: “I’m scared of the verdict you’re going to hand down tonight. a in this damn procedure. Because this file is incredible, there is no material evidence against the accused. It took twenty years in the first instance. I said to myself, what is he s passed for him to take twenty years? You cannot condemn a man to twenty years, even to ten, without any material element, it is not possible! Nothing, in the DNA, connects him to the facts The telephony on site, there is none.”
The lawyer adds in conclusion: “Are you 300% sure that he is guilty? If you have any doubts, you have an obligation to acquit him.”
The verdict is expected in the evening.
Facts : since March 21, the Assize Court of Appeal of Nièvre, judge Samir Berkani (42 years old), Driss Belkhouribchia (44 years old) and Bouchaïb Mohib (43 years old), accused of arrest, kidnapping, kidnapping or arbitrary detention followed by the death of Mathieu Hocquet. Presumed innocent, they are liable to life imprisonment. Mathieu Hocquet, aged 22, was found dead on July 13, 1999, in a ditch north of Vierzon, his skull shattered by a stone. At first instance, before the Cher Assize Court, the three men were sentenced to 18 and 20 years’ imprisonment. The fourth man, Cyril Bourguignon (46), was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He did not appeal his decision, so his conviction is final.
In Nevers, Remy Beurion.