The first convictions in the Angers pedophile case that has shocked the whole of France were handed down on Wednesday with jail terms of up to 28 years given to the key defendants.
Security remained tight as the court handed out its first verdicts
Jail terms of up to 28 years were handed down Wednesday at the end of the biggest pedophile trial in French legal history, after key defendants were convicted of the rape and sexual abuse of children as young as six months of age.
Some of those found guilty in the four-and-a-half month trial had prostituted and abused their own offspring, in what was described to the court as a nightmarish routine of incest and pornography-fuelled depravity that lasted more than two years.
Altogether 65 men and women were accused of taking part in the sex sessions in a poor neighborhood of the central town of Angers.
Philippe V., one of the instigators of the vice-ring and a man already convicted of raping his son, was sentenced to 28 years in jail. He was shown in the trial to have raped one his granddaughters.
Brothers handed out severe sentences
Two brothers named as Jean-Marc and Eric J, who also had criminal records for child abuse, were given 26 and 28 years. In a reference to Greek mythology, the prosecutor had described Eric as "Chronos, the Titan who devoured his own children," because two of his offspring were victims of the ring.
Didier R was founded guilty of prostituting 31 children as well as rape and was given 18 years in jail.
In a lengthy court session likely to last several hours, verdicts were still being handed down on lesser defendants Wednesday evening. There were three acquittals.
The judge banned reporting of full names in order to protect the children of the accused.
Fear of collective guilt
The jury ignored the arguments of defense lawyers, who said that in so monumental a trial -- a charge sheet of 25,000 pages, 250 witnesses, and 93 days of hearings -- it was impossible to reach fair conclusions on the guilt or innocence of 65 individuals.
"Our fears are very real. We are very afraid there'll be a kind of collective responsibility -- a generalized guilt. It will be extremely hard for jurors to treat each accused as a separate person," defense attorney Pascal Rouiller said during the trial.
Accused suffered abuse themselves as children
Another defense lawyer, Patrick Descamps, said the court had to take into account "the background to the affair, which is social deprivation, failures of the judicial and social services, pornography. Nearly all the accused were themselves abused when they were children. They had no trial."
Of the 65 accused, 26 were female -- charges against a 27th were dropped because of ill health -- and the trial challenged widespread preconceptions about the role of women in pedophilia.