Sarah Halimi’s case marks a new milestone for the already embattled French Jewish community. After a drawn out court case, on Wednesday, Nov. 27, a Paris judge dropped the murder charges against Halimi’s killer, Kobili Traoré, 29, on the grounds that smoking pot had caused him to suffer a massive “psychotic episode.”
According to police records, Traoré beat and tortured Halimi for hours—at one point with French police standing just outside her door as they waited for another unit to arrive, while calls to the police reported hearing a woman’s screams and a man shouting “Allahu akbar.” The torture ended when Traoré shoved Halimi, a retired kindergarten teacher, off of her third-floor balcony and she fell to her death.
The London based Jewish Chronicle quotes a lawyer representing the Halimi family on the consequences of the decision: “You’re saying that people can walk free after carrying out criminal action just because they were allegedly not aware of the effects of drugs or other substances?” asked Francis Szpiner. “Will this also apply to drunk drivers who kill children on the road?”
The verdict comes in the midst of ongoing efforts in France to legalize marijuana, leaving open the possibility that future murderers of Jews will have an even easier time getting away with their crimes.
‘I felt persecuted. When I saw the Torah and a chandelier in her home I felt oppressed. I saw her face transforming.’
In Paris, where Kobili Traoré’s trial took place last week, anti-Semitism has been dramatically increasing, prompting an exodus of French Jews. Anti-Semitic incidents rose by 74% in one year, reaching 541 crimes in 2018, from 311 in 2017, according to the French Interior Ministry. In July 2018 The New York Times found that despite Jews making up less than 1% of the French population “nearly 40 percent of violent acts classified as racially or religiously motivated were committed against Jews in 2017.” As a consequence, French Jews have been leaving the country in record numbers. In 2015 some 8,000 left France for Israel—the largest single-year migration from a Western country to Israel on record.
Thus, France’s remaining Jewish community was intensely focused last week on the final critical phase of Traoré’s court case, anticipating that after years of contentious deliberations with varying findings, the medical team would make its determination on Traoré’s mental state.
Traoré, an immigrant from Mali, was 27 at the time of Halimi’s murder. A heavy marijuana smoker, Traoré had also been dealing pot since he was a teenager and had been convicted for a number of previous crimes and served four different prison sentences, including one from which he had only recently been released at the time of the killing.
On the night of the murder, he had first broken into another family’s apartment before breaking into Halimi’s in Paris’ 11th arrondissement—reportedly the only Jewish person in her council estate apartment building. Claiming to not have recognized Halimi, Traoré told the French court: “I felt persecuted. When I saw the Torah and a chandelier in her home I felt oppressed. I saw her face transforming.”
In addition to screaming “Allahu akbar” during his crime, Traoré was heard calling Halimi a Shaitan—Arabic for Satan—before killing her. According to Halimi’s daughter, Traoré had called her a “dirty Jewess” two years before murdering her mother. Traoré had also attended the Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud mosque in Paris, a known hangout for Islamist radicals.
Yet, despite all of that evidence and the brutality of Traoré’s crime, French authorities and the French media effectively suppressed reports of the crime. As Marc Weitzmann has reported in Tablet, details of the crime that pointed to its anti-Semitic motive were initially not reported in the French press.
The hearing last week was part of a legal process to decide whether Traoré could benefit from French Criminal Procedure Code 122-1, which stipulates that an individual cannot be charged if he was not fully aware of his acts during a crime. The medical experts disagreed on this point.
Dr. Zagury, the first medical expert in the case, who conducted five studies on Traoré since 2017, concluded that “there is an alteration of discernment and not an abolition,” meaning that while Traoré’s judgment was impaired it was not nullified altogether.
However, two other doctors issued reports concluding that Traoré was too high to be fully aware of what he did and that he could benefit from the “BDA” status—a French acronym that stands for “delirious hot burst,” similar to the American concept of “temporary insanity.”
On Dec. 19, Traoré’s trial will resume and a further decision will be made on his legal culpability. In the meantime, the civil party has already decided to order an appeal.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Annabelle Azadé is a journalist based in Los Angeles. She has reported from Bangkok, New York, Tel Aviv, London, and Paris.