French murder prompts chemical castration calls
The murder of Marie-Christine Hodeau by convicted paedophile Manuel da Cruz has caused an outcry in France
Last Monday, Marie-Christine Hodeau changed into an orange top, black shorts and black and white trainers and set off for her morning jog on the edge of the vast Fontainebleau forest south of Paris. It was a route the 42-year-old Frenchwoman took two or three times a week.
Somewhere in the woods, near the village of Milly-la-Foret, a Peugeot 106 pulled up. The driver, a man in his forties, forced Marie-Christine at knifepoint to climb into the boot.
He then drove off, unaware Marie-Christine had made a mental note of his registration number and was concealing her mobile phone.
As the man drove away, she called the police and told them - in a "rather panic-stricken but extremely lucid" voice, police said later - about her predicament.
What happened next is not exactly clear - because the line suddenly went dead. Police assume that she was speaking too loudly and, in a small hatchback car, the driver was able to hear her.
Aware that the police would now be looking for the Peugeot, the man drove further into the forest, took Marie-Christine from the car and tied her to a tree. Apparently oblivious to the risk that she might be found, he then left her there while he went off to find another car.
Marie-Christine managed to untie herself and ran off into the forest. It wasn't over. The man returned and chased after her. Once he had caught her again, he strangled her and left her naked body hidden in the undergrowth. It is not known whether he sexually assaulted her.
The horror of Marie-Christine's ordeal is shocking enough. But it is what came to light next that has caused public outrage in France.
When the police contacted the Peugeot's owner following Marie-Christine's phone call from inside the boot, he told them the car was often borrowed by the caretaker of his property, Manuel da Cruz.
Cruz was a 47-year-old man who only two years ago was released from prison after kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl in 2000. Freed on parole four years before the end of his 11-year sentence, he had even been allowed to move back into the neighbourhood where his teenage victim lived.
When Cruz was first interviewed by police on Monday afternoon, he denied having any part in Marie-Christine's disappearance. An alert was put out for the missing 5ft 9in blonde woman and throughout Tuesday, more than 200 gendarmes, helped by helicopters, officers on horseback and sniffer dogs, searched the dense forest, still hoping to find her alive.
Eventually, under repeated questioning, Cruz admitted on Wednesday afternoon to what he had done and led police to her body. According to his lawyer, Cruz could give no explanation for his actions and "doesn't understand himself what pushed him to do this".
The fact that Marie-Christine died at the hands of a re-offender has started a huge debate in France about how Cruz came to be paroled.
And it has brought to the top of the political agenda the issue of enforced chemical castration by administering hormones that counteract the activity of androgens (male hormones) in order to suppress sex drive.
President Sarkozy, who immediately invited Marie-Christine's family to the Elysee Palace to express his sorrow at her death, ordered a review of France's criminal psychiatry system and called for the closer supervision of paroled prisoners.
The president has not publicly raised the chemical castration issue, but several members of his government have done so in recent days.
There is already a clear divide along party lines, with members of Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party advocating castration - or at least a full examination of its potential - and members of the opposition Socialist party angrily denouncing the practice as "deplorable" and "indecent".
Along with Sweden and Denmark, France already allows chemical castration if the offender agrees to the procedure. Now the question is: should France follow Poland, and some US states, and make chemical castration mandatory for certain offenders convicted of sexually abusing children?
Advocates stress that because the procedure is chemical and not physical, it is reversible. But the medieval overtones leave many French people feeling very uncomfortable at the prospect - despite the horror of Marie-Christine's ordeal. ·
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