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April 13, 2004
Capital Punishment, la Francaise

French authorities have repeatedly refused to extradite murder suspects to the United States due to the possibility of defendants being sentenced to death. The most notorious of these cases was Ira Einhorn, the aging hippie who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, in absentia after fleeing the trial just before the conviction came in. Once he was discovered in France, Pennsylvania prosecutors and the State Department tried for years to get the French to deport him, but were met with Gallic obstinacy and disdain while Einhorn continued to live with his girlfriend in a country villa. The French refused to allow Einhorn to return to the US not only because of the death penalty but also because it believed his rights had been violated by his conviction in absentia.

Finally, after signing a pledge not to seek the death penalty and granting Einhorn a new trial 20 years after his conviction -- the Pennsylvania legislature had to pass a bill specifically allowing this for Einhorn -- the French relented and sent the murderer back to the US.

A similar case appeared headed for the same long-term struggle for resolution until last night, when the allegedly superior French law-enforcement system rendered the questions of extradition and execution moot:

Paul Eduardovich Goldman, 39, a naturalized U.S. citizen, killed himself Sunday afternoon in a prison in the suburbs of Grenoble, in the French Alps, even though he was under suicide watch, said attorney Arnaud Levy-Soussan.

"He hanged himself with a sheet in his cell," the lawyer told The Associated Press. "He already tried to commit suicide at the start of his incarceration in January. So he was classed among detainees under special surveillance."

"I don't understand because he was not meant to be left alone and to be under constant surveillance. But that wasn't the case. I think French authorities made a big mistake. That is clear," said Levy-Soussan.

Goldman fled the US when authorities discovered the body of his murdered lover, who had been stabbed to death at the end of last year. Extradition requests were initially rebuffed, but again the US promised not to seek the death penalty, and both sides expected approval for extradition shortly. On top of that, Goldman's parents had recently both committed suicide, slashing their wrists and leaving a note blaming the shame of their son's conduct for their double suicide.

French authorities feared that Goldman may be depressed from this sequence of events and had placed him on a suicide watch. However, no one can explain why Goldman was left in a cell with a drainage pipe running through it, including his attorney, who specifically asked the French to take special precautions. I hold no brief for Goldman, who committed a heinous and barbaric act, but at least Einhorn got a trial. Perhaps the next time the French take such a high-handed approach in lecturing us about human rights and the proper application of law enforcement, they'll first brush up on the basics of security within their own system first.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 13, 2004 7:07 AM

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