Ira Einhorn: The Unicorn Killer
Einhorn's lawyers staged an unexpected and brilliant counterattack, one that kept American Justice wounded and wanting. Ted Simon, an enigmatic attorney and an expert in international law, took charge of the defense team in Paris and Bordeaux, citing a particular loophole in the prosecution's extradition request.
According to established rules of the European Convention on Human Rights, no alleged criminal was ever to be tried in absentia, that is, without his or her actual presence in court. In 1993, the Philadelphian judicial system conducted such a trial, an acceptable American procedure after a suspect flees the country and refuses to return after an ordained period of time. The trial was held as a normal murder trial, with a judge, a full jury, witnesses, evidence and a legal team — but without the suspect or a defense counsel. At its conclusion, Einhorn had been convicted and given the death sentence for the murder of Holly Maddux, the said verdict to be carried out upon his return to America.
French custom finds such a process unfathomable. The fact that Einhorn was tried in absentia goes against the French code of honor; the fact that he was given the death sentence without legal representation is considered brutal. Furthermore, France does not condone capital punishment.
Prosecutors argued that the Unicorn had been given a chance to respond, but failed to do so. To the French courts, however, that was not good enough. All that mattered was that Einhorn was convicted without the actuality of his voice in defense. In December, 1997, Einhorn walked out of court a free man once more.
Steven Levy, author of The Unicorn's Secret, was one of the many people affronted by the decision. "Suddenly, Judge Michel Arrighi, sitting in front a painting of the crucified Jesus in a Bordeaux courtroom, is decreeing that 'Ira Einhorn soi mis en libertie' — that he be set free.' An exultant, bluejeaned 57-year-old killer, looking none the worse from six months at Gradignan Prison, is breaking out in a gap-toothed grin, hugging the wealthy Swedish wife he'd picked up during his travels. And then he is motoring off to his home, a charming old converted mill on a bucolic lane outside the medieval village of Champagne-Mouton."
The Maddux family, he says, found the news devastating. Philadelphia Prosecutor Joel Rosen was outraged and proclaimed his disgust at the French courts for not releasing into his custody "an American citizen who killed another American citizen on American soil." District Attorney Lynne Abraham summarized the decision with the phrase, "He is getting away with murder." As for Richard DiBenedetto, who worked so hard, so long to bring the Unicorn home, it was a nasty blow to him and what it meant for the American legal system.
Back home, the Pennsylvania General Assembly had no choice but to pass legislation that granted a previously tried and condemned man a whole new trial and — at least in Einhorn's case — a trial that would promise no enactment of the death penalty. The prosecution returned to France to proffer their revisions in January, 1998, and, after months bantering, an extradition hearing was granted. The French added one more component to the American offer: If Einhorn lost his bid to stay in France, he had the right to appeal. The U.S. grudgingly complied, and Einhorn was given the news when he was arrested. But, incredible as it may seem, French officials released him on bail to await the hearing. More incredibly, he didn't light out. "The judges (explained) that Einhorn could remain free in France until the long process leading to an actual extradition — a process his attorneys said could take up to two years — was completed," says the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The court was readied, and all the fanfare that would go with it. A hearing in front of the Cour de Cassation was scheduled for May 27, 1999, at the Palais de Justice. The press sat in the sidelines, waiting. Popular belief was that Einhorn would beat the system again. Many journalists had, in fact, prepared their headlines in advance, reading something like EINHORN STAYS IN FRANCE.
Up to the last-minute, the Unicorn's lawyers expected, what Newsweek termed, "a slam-dunk win," and probably reassured him of this in the courtroom. A few minutes after the hearing opened inside the Palais de Justice, Einhorn was seen smiling, hugging his wife, and looking confident, even as Judge Arrighi drew his attention to announce his verdict. But, the Unicorn paled and his smile faded, when the gist of what the judge just said began to sink in: that he favored "the decision for the request of extradition."
"What?" Einhorn asked, blinking, hearing but not sure if he heard correctly. "What's going on!" His lawyers didn't answer him. The courtroom came alive with flashing cameras and buzzing; someone cheered. Reporters dashed for the foyer, already scribbling notes on their pads. The judge folded up his papers and left. The Unicorn, understanding fully now, only stared, hearing nothing else.
Hope dies hard, says an old cliché. And, right or wrong, Einhorn still had hope.
Prime Minister Lionel Jospin still needed to concur with the ruling; and if he did, there was still a possibility that the Conseil d'Etat, the highest appeals court in the land, would not.