In each of the hundred or so geographical departments of the French Republic, the national authority is represented by an individual known as a prefect. I mentioned already this republican concept in my article of 21 July 2007 entitled Prefects [display]. In view of the highly symbolic nature of the role of these distinguished individuals (not to mention their everyday down-to-earth responsibility of maintaining republican order throughout the nation), killing intentionally a French prefect is a particularly grave crime, which might be likened to assassinating the president or prime minister of France. In other words, the Republic doesn't take such acts lightly... and rightly so.
On the evening of 6 February 1998, the 60-year-old prefect Claude Erignac was gunned down, from behind, in a street in Ajaccio. Over a year later, nine Corsican separatists, suspected of being associated with the commando that assassinated Erignac, were arrested. And one of the arrested men claimed that the fellow who actually shot the prefect was a goat herdsman named Yvan Colonna.
The named culprit immediately went into hiding in the wild hills of Corsica. Four years later, in July 2003, Colonna was finally tracked down and brought into custody, and his trial before a court of assizes in Paris started a month ago.
It's interesting to note that the unique accusations of Colonna as the trigger-man in the Erignac assassination emanate from the small circle of Corsican separatists who've already been condemned for participating in this crime. In other words, they (and close family members) are saying that the execution was carried out by a specific individual, Yvan Colonna, who can be considered as a fellow-member of their separatist clan. Now, this is weird. Everything would be so much clearer, in a way, if they were to say that the gunman was an Italian mafioso, for example, or a disgruntled tourist from Brittany, say, or even a crazy American psychopath who happened to be visiting the birthplace of Napoleon. Today, the wife of Alain Ferrandi, sentenced in 2003 to life imprisonment, refuses to retract her declaration that Colonna visited her husband at their home, just after the crime, accompanied by Pierre Alessandri, also imprisoned for life.
Colonna's trial has highlighted what appears to be a curious criminal behavior, specifically Corsican. One has the impression that condemned Corsican separatists are capable of accusing such-and-such a former comrade in arms, as it were, because this strategy enables the real culprits, meanwhile, to save their skins. In other words, while Colonna's defense lawyers are attracting attention by doing their best to prove that their client could not have possibly committed this crime, the true criminal is sinking more and more into obscurity.
This morning, in a dramatic last-minute operation, Colonna's lawyer Gilles Simeoni even went as far as the law and legal ethics would enable him to go in insinuating, rather explicitly, the identity of the obscure individual whom the wife of Ferrandi might be trying to cover up by allowing the blame to rest upon Colonna.
The least that can be said is that the evidence against Colonna is flimsy, and that the charismatic calmly-spoken 47-year-old Corsican doesn't behave like a killer. In France, the expression "intimate conviction" is often used to designate our privately-held opinions concerning the possible guilt or innocence of a convicted individual. At the present moment [Thursday afternoon, 13 December 2007], while I'm writing this blog article, Colonna's trial has not yet ended. Consequently, it's out of the question for me to express publicly my "intimate convictions" concerning the case of Yvan Colonna. I can say, however, that the vast information provided by the Internet concerning all the intricacies of an affair such as this would appear to aid us immensely in forming a sympathetic evaluation of this individual.
Breaking news [Thursday evening, 13 December 2007]: Yvan Colonna has just been sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination of the prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac, in 1998.
Personal conclusions [Saturday evening, 15 December 2007]: This affair was judged, not by a citizen jury, but by an exceptional group of professional magistrates. It would therefore be ridiculous to claim that these expert dignitaries might have acted in a lightweight or erroneous fashion. So, we have to search for deeper reasons for their condemnation of the Corsican shepherd... whose lawyers have just launched an official appeal, as expected, to a higher court. Clearly, the greatest single negative factor in the case of Yvan Colonna was the fact that he decided to attempt to hide from French Justice, and indeed succeeded in doing so for four years. Everybody knows that this kind of behavior is frankly unpardonable within the context of the French Republic... whose noble forms were traced initially by a Corsican named Napoléon Bonaparte. If you've got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't hide. Inversely, if you did hide from French Justice, then you probably had something to hide... such as an assassination, for example. Incidentally, this is not a valid logical deduction... but it's enough to put you behind bars for the rest of your life.