No verdict on the death of Jacques Mesrine, after twenty-five years of investigation

On 2 November 1979, he was brought down in his car by anti-gang police officers, at the porte de Clignancourt, in Paris. Twenty-five years later, the judge charged by the family of Jacques Mesrine with clearing up the circumstances of the death of the former "public enemy number one," a spectacular escapee from the la Sainte prison a year before, has concluded the inquest with a no verdict,[1] Wednesday 14 October [2004].

The judge was charged just ten days after the death of the gangster by Mrs. Martine Malinbaum, lawyer for his mother and daughter, in a complaint filed in civil court against X for "assassination." In total, ten judges have worked on the dossier, without succeeding, after many back-and-forths, to quiet the polemic between the police and the family of the most celebrated good-for-nothing of the 1970s. The last magistrate to make a close study of this shouting match, the Parisian judge Baudouin Thouvenot, rejected the thesis according to which the death of Jacques Mesrine was programmed by the police.

According to the magistrate, the men under Commissioner Robert Broussard, who led the Brigade of Research and Intervention (BRI) at the time, had proceeded to the arrest warrant and hadn't opened fire until having "legitimately interpreted" the movement made by Mesrine in the car, who was leaning over as if to seize a weapon. After the fusillade, in which his companion, Sylvie Jeanjacquot, was seriously hurt, an automatic pistol and two grenades were found in the car. Furthermore, the judge recalled that Jacques Mesrine had made clear, on many occasions, his intention of never being taken by the police.

Screened by Judge Thouvenot to the [Mesrine] family on 2 September 2000, a film of the events, shot on Super 8 by a police inspector present at the time of the fusillade and versed in the dossier twenty-five years after the facts, didn't contain any revelations on the death of the good-for-nothing. Lucien Aime-Blanc, former boss of the Central Office for the Repression of Gangsterism, hadn't managed to lift the veil in his 2002 book, The Man Hunt: The Truth of the Death of Mesrine (Plon).

In 2001, the four BRI police officers who shot Mesrine recounted to Judge Helene Sottet, in the framework of a re-opened investigation a year before, the conditions in which they had fired. Forty men, a team of twenty [police] cars, messengers, a truck . . . the arrest of the "public enemy" was, in November 1979, a political affair connected to the highest levels of the State. The police officers had nevertheless affirmed that they hadn't received any preliminary instructions to shoot. But their testimony, containing several contradictions, was far from satisfactory to Ms. Malinbaum, convinced that "one was closer to an execution than an interrogation." The attorney has appealed the [most recent] verdict.

Friday 15 October [2004] in Valence, at the time of the Congress of the Syndicated Union of Magistrates, the Minister of Justice, Dominique Perben, evoked the affair in a detour from his reflections on the expenses of justice, that the magistrates worked under the best of circumstances: under seal, Jacques Mesrine's bullet-riddled and ruined BMW lay dormant a quarter of a century in the automobile pound, at the expense of [the Ministry of] Justice, for a total of 4,672 Euros, said M. Perben with regret.

Reported by Agence France Presse and printed in the 4 November 2004 issue of Le Monde. Translated from the French by NOT BORED!

Translator's note:

[1] The French phrase is non-lieu, literally "no place."

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