In France, the story around Omar Raddad’s conviction for murder is one of the most famous and told news cases in the country and on Tuesday, after thirty years, it could be discussed again in a courtroom. The story has to do with the murder that took place in 1991 of a wealthy woman, with writings made with blood in the cellar where she was found and which contained a grammatical error, with a door closed from the inside in an inexplicable way and with the sentence of a gardener.
Last June Sylvie Noachovitch, lawyer of the man who was convicted of the murder in 1994 and who has always pleaded innocent, filed a request for a review of the sentence. According to the lawyer, there is new “scientific evidence” that could exonerate him.
In 1991, Ghislaine Marchal was 65 years old and lived alone between Switzerland and a villa in the hills of Mougins, just north of Cannes, whose garden was cared for by Omar Raddad. Marchal was born into an important family, was the daughter of an industrialist engaged in the Resistance during the Second World War and was the widow of Jean-Pierre Marchal, owner of a famous company that supplied automotive equipment. Omar Raddad, at the time, was 29 years old, had grown up in Morocco, could neither read nor write and spoke little French.
On June 24 of that year the police, alerted by some of Marchal’s friends who no longer had any news from her, went to the Mougins villa. Inside, there was no one. They then became interested in the annexe attached to the house where a flight of stairs led to the basement, through a locked iron door. They managed to force it, but not to open it. The door, they soon discovered, was blocked from the inside by a folding bed, a wooden beam, and a metal tube that served as a wedge.
When they entered, they found Ghislaine Marchal’s body in a half-empty cellar. She was lying face down on the floor, she had blood in her hair and on her dress. The coroner said she had been hit repeatedly in the body with a blade (never found so far) and in the head with a wooden beam. He had several injuries and fractures. The death, the doctor said, had occurred the day before between 11:45 and 14:00.
If this crime scene became that famous it was not only for the brutality of the murder, but also for two writings made with blood found on two internal doors and which seemed to indicate the author: “Omar m’a tuer” was on a white door, about a meter away from the ground, the other was barely legible on the door leading to the boiler room: “Omar m’a t.” The first writing contained a grammatical error, which according to some a person “so cultured” as Marchal would not have committed: the correct form would have been “Omar m’a tuée”, “Omar killed me”.
The medical examiner also determined that the woman’s agony had lasted from ten to thirty minutes. So shortly before he died, had he tried to report his killer, or was it all a show? At the time, no lengthy investigations were carried out to identify a suspect: the day after the body was found, the woman’s gardener, of Moroccan origin, married with two children, was arrested. He immediately denied being the culprit and his version never changed.
On the morning the murder was committed, Raddad was working in the garden of one of Mrs. Marchal’s neighbors, who in his testimony said that the man left work around noon and to return at 1:00 pm. He confirmed, saying that in the meantime he had stopped at the bakery and had lunch at his home in Le Cannet, 7 kilometers from Marchal’s villa. However, his version was not supported by any testimony. The only sure thing is that at 12:51 he phoned his wife from a phone booth near his home. Given the distances, it would have been difficult, but not impossible, to commit the fact he was accused of.
The trial began in 1994. In the absence of decisive material evidence, two theses were put forward in the courtroom. According to the prosecution, on June 24, 1991, Omar Raddad asked Marchal for an advance on his salary: he was a player, and he would need money to pay off his debts and cover the expenses of the house. Ghislaine Marchal would have refused and he would have lost control by killing her and stealing the cash contained in the bag that was found empty in the bedroom inside the villa.
Also according to the accusation, before dying Ghislaine Marchal would have managed to find the strength to barricade herself in the cellar room and do the writing, dragging herself from one part of the room to the other. This hypothesis was supported by two graphological experts: they established that the two writings were made by the same person, Ghislaine Marchal, and that the spelling error was, in fact, a gross error that the woman had already committed in some of her other writings.
Raddad’s defense lawyers, led by Jacques Vergès, famous for his anti-colonial activism and for having defended various terrorists both on the right and on the left, tried to demonstrate the fragility of these reports, and to carry out their thesis: on June 24 in 1991, the real killer managed to enter Marchal’s property unnoticed, dragged the woman to the basement, hit her in the head and forced her to do the scripts with his own blood.
The question of the door, however, was not given a satisfactory explanation either by the defense or by the prosecution. For the defense, as the final act of the staging, the killer closed the cellar door from the outside with the help of a curved iron bar stuck under the crack. For the prosecution Ghislaine Marchal, mortally wounded, did everything by herself, moving a bed weighing 12 kilos.
The defense attorneys then said that an empty purse could not be considered evidence of a theft, that no jewelry or other valuables had been stolen and, more importantly, Raddad’s DNA and fingerprints were never found. at the crime scene. Nor were there any traces of blood on his clothes. They also denounced the negligence of the investigations: several elements were not examined, such as the wooden beam, the bed and the iron pipe that blocked the door and the victim’s fingers were never measured to verify that she was actually the author of the writings. . Meanwhile, Ghislaine Marchal’s body had been cremated, with the permission of the court. The defense attorneys finally argued that the motive attributed to Raddad was rather vague and unfounded.
However, several questions remained unanswered: Why would a killer waste time writing the same message twice? And why accuse the gardener? At the end of the trial, the hypothesis of an intruder was ruled out and it was established that Omar Raddad was guilty: he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
On February 2, 1994, leaving the court, Jacques Vergès spoke of a serious miscarriage of justice, pointed out the lack of evident evidence and the bias of the president of the court. And he uttered a phrase that later became famous: “A hundred years ago we condemned a young officer who was wrong in being Jewish, today we condemn a gardener because he is wrong in being Maghrebi.” That is, he compared Raddad to Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of selling military secrets to Germany before the First World War. Several personalities, including a bishop, writer Marguerite Duras and director Claude Lanzmann, in turn signed an appeal to denounce what they considered an injustice and to ask for a retrial.
In a recent report, Release wrote that the verdict did not close the case which, on the contrary, became part of the judicial history of the country. In 1996, Raddad received a partial pardon from then-president Jacques Chirac, at the request of the king of Morocco, and was released from prison in 1998. He was released, but not declared innocent.
From that moment on, several requests were made for a review of the sentence. In 1999, the investigation resumed on the basis of two new reports which concluded that he was not so sure that it was Marchal who had written “Omar m’a tuer”. The new analyzes led to the discovery that the writings had been made with Marchal’s blood mixed with male blood, but from the comparison of the different DNAs it turned out that Raddad’s was not present anywhere. Two years later, we are in 2002, the Court still decided to reject the request for review: the blood could have been left before, after or during the murder, perhaps by investigators, experts or journalists.
Lawyer Sylvie Noachovitch, who has defended Omar Raddad since 2008, decided to continue the case anyway. In 2011, she obtained permission to conduct other reports on the traces of blood, but was then blocked again. It was thanks to the 2014 legislative change on the review of trials that he had the opportunity to continue his investigations with new and more advanced technologies, which led to the conclusion that there are strong doubts about Omar Raddad’s guilt.
Today Raddad is 59 years old and is awaiting a decision on his new request for review of the trial, which was filed last June on a “symbolic” date: that of the discovery, thirty years ago, of the body of Ghislaine Marchal.