Ex-wife defends playboy lawyer in missing heiress case

Ex-wife defends playboy lawyer in missing heiress case
Former French lawyer Maurice Agnelet, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2007, arrives for his appeals trial at the Brittany Parliament in Rennes.

RENNES, France - The ex-wife of a playboy lawyer accused of killing a French heiress 36 years ago on Wednesday denied their son's claim that the father had murdered the young woman, as the son stood his ground.

Maurice Agnelet, 76, this week faces his third trial for the killing of Agnes Le Roux, a glamorous 29-year-old whose body was never found after she disappeared in October 1977.

Agnelet, a former lawyer, was initially acquitted of the murder but convicted on appeal in 2007 to serve 20 years - a verdict that was eventually overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Agnelet's retrial in Rennes has seen shocking turns, including an accusation from his son, Guillaume Agnelet claiming both his father and his mother had separately said that he had murdered Le Roux.

But his mother, Annie Litas, on Wednesday rejected her son's accusations as fantasy and said he suffered from psychological problems.

"I find it completely unreal and incredible. I never said this," she said, testifying by video-conference from Perigueux in central France.

"I am his mother and will always remain so," the 72-year-old said but added: "I never thought that he could make such statements." But she was in tears when questioned about a postcard sent from a deceased son, Jerome, in which he called his parents "killers".

Guillaume Agnelet, 45, said in shock testimony on Monday that his mother had confided in him that his father had killed Le Roux in her sleep during a camping trip in Italy and dumped the body by the side of the road.

He said his father had also confessed in the 1980s to knowing the location of the corpse.

'I am not here to make war'

On Wednesday, Guillaume Agnelet repeated the accusations in person, saying: "Yes I confirm them. I am here to tell you what has been uppermost in my mind for nearly 30 years. I am not here to make war." After Monday's testimony Agnelet's bail was revoked and he is now being detained during the trial. A verdict is due in the case on Friday.

Agnelet's other son Thomas is also due to testify on Wednesday for the defence.

Agnelet has always denied murdering Le Roux, the heiress to the Palais de la Mediterranee casino in Nice.

Le Roux disappeared several months after she was at the centre of a scheme linked to a hostile take-over bid of her mother's casino.

Agnelet had seduced Le Roux and persuaded her to vote against her mother at a board meeting in June 1977 and allow the casino to be sold to rival owner Dominique Fratoni.

Money from the transaction - three million francs, worth the equivalent of about 1.7 million euros (S$2.9 million) in today's money - first went into a joint account in the couple's name and later ended up solely in Agnelet's hands.

Agnelet was initially the prime suspect in the case but produced an alibi when another mistress claimed he was with her in Switzerland at the time.

The woman, Francoise Lausseure, later admitted she had lied and the case was reopened.

The court has asked Lausseure to testify but she has refused to go to the French embassy in Mexico, where she now lives, to speak via video-conference.

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