The strange case of Florence Cassez

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A couple of hours ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court accepted an appeal from Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman, to free her from prison.

Parts of the court hearing were carried live on television, a sign of how the case had become a lightning rod in Mexico. Cassez, 38, spent the past seven years in jail, accused of being part of the Zodiacos kidnapping gang.

The imminent freeing of Cassez enraged those kidnapped by the Zodiacos, and victims’ rights advocates, too. One of the sign-carrying protesters is seen in the AP photo above. The sign reads: “Freedom for soldiers, not for Florence Cassez.”

A Milenio television reporter interviewed a former kidnap victim, Ezequiel Elizalde, who was held for 60 days, and he sputtered in anger earlier today.

“I’m a Mexican but this is a rubbish of an institution,” he said of the high court. “In the United States, a kidnapper would get the death sentence.”

Cassez was arrested in 2005 at a ranch outside Mexico City where several abductees were found. Her former boyfriend, a Mexican, was involved in the kidnappings but she denied knowledge.

The investigation into her case was riddled with irregularities leading up to her conviction and subsequent 60-year sentence. It led to a diplomatic crisis between Mexico and France in 2011, when then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to dedicate a “Year of Mexico” cultural event to Cassez. Mexico cancelled the event in anger. I wrote about it at the time.

French Prime Minister Francois Hollande hailed the court ruling: “France thanks all those who, in Mexico as well as here at home, have fought so that truth and justice prevail.”

The case has been an embarrassment to many, including TV journalists who tailed police on what they said was live coverage of the 2005 raid on the gang’s hideout. In fact, it was a re-enactment designed to burnish the image of the police.

“I did not realize that this was a sham,” Carlos Loret de Mola, one of Televisa’s star broadcasters, said this week.

One of the wisest pronouncements today came from Luis Gonzalez Plascencia, head of the capital’s human rights commission.

“We’ll never know if Florence is guilty or innocent,” he said.

Without that knowledge, victims say they have reason to be angry.

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