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Corsican nationalist sentenced to life imprisonment

Latest update : 2009-03-28

A Paris appeal court has found Corsican shepherd Yvan Colonna guilty in the 1998 murder of prefect Claude Erignac. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 22 years.

AFP - A Paris appeal court on Friday jailed a shepherd convicted of murdering the top French official on the Mediterranean island of Corsica for at least 22 years.

Prosecutors described Yvan Colonna, 48, as a "man without honour" and the "shooter and executioner" of prefect Claude Erignac, who was gunned down in 1998 on his way to a concert in Ajaccio.

The appeal court gave him the heaviest possible sentence, as requested by the prosecution: life with a minimum of 22 years behind bars, more than the original life sentence passed in 2007 when no minimum time to be served was specified.

His lawyers immediately said that they would take the case to a higher court "from today". If that failed they would go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, they said.

"This decision is unjust, this court refused on principle to envisage any other solution than that of guilt," lawyer Antoine Sollacaro told reporters immediately after the verdict.

The nine judges deliberated for eight hours before announcing their decision to a courtroom where neither the defendant, or his family or his defence team were present, having boycotted proceedings for the past two weeks.

The murder shocked France and was the most spectacular attack in some 30 years of low-level separatist violence on the island.

Colonna's appeal opened on February 9 before a special court specialising in terrorism cases.

"Yvan Colonna is the shooter and executioner of a servant of the state," said prosecutor Jean-Claude Kross on Thursday as the prosecution wrapped up the case.

The man who has described himself as a shepherd and goatherd was "caught in the mad spiral of hardline fundamentalism," said Kross.

Erignac was shot three times in the back of the head on February 6, 1998 as he walked unprotected in the streets of Ajaccio on his way to an evening concert.

Six other people have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for taking part in the plot.

Colonna turned up for the appeals hearing last month, dressed in a black T-shirt and denouncing what he called a state-sponsored trial against him.

But after the court denied his request to reconstruct the crime, he announced on March 11 that he was boycotting the trial and has since remained in his prison cell while the case continued.

"You are not impartial, you are on a mission," he told the court.

The son of a former Corsican member of parliament, Colonna spent several years in hiding in the mountains of Corsica after being named as a suspect and was finally captured in 2003.

In his long period on the run, he enjoyed protection under the code of silence on the small island of some 250,000 inhabitants.

Corsica has been the scene of a generally low-level campaign of nationalist-inspired attacks, with French government buildings and holiday homes most often targeted in firebombings.

Investigators claim Colonna was a member of the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), a group founded in 1976 to fight for Corsica's independence from France.

But Colonna has simply admitted to being supportive of the separatist cause, saying that he distanced himself from politics in 1989 to look after his newborn son, his goat herd and his local football club.

During the first trial, the main evidence against Colonna was the testimony of other plot members, which they later claimed was extracted under duress.

Defence lawyers had complained that from the outset his trial had been unfair, saying that the presumption of innocence in Colonna's case had been consistently flouted.

On the day of his arrest President Nicolas Sarkozy -- then interior minister -- said he was delighted at the capture of "Claude Erignac's murderer."

Date created : 2009-03-27