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French court delays Chilean’s appeal for murder of Japanese student

Presiding judge Francois Arnaud (R) did not give a new date Thursday for the delayed appeal hearing
Presiding judge Francois Arnaud (R) did not give a new date Thursday for the delayed appeal hearing - Copyright US Department of Defense/AFP -
Presiding judge Francois Arnaud (R) did not give a new date Thursday for the delayed appeal hearing - Copyright US Department of Defense/AFP -

A French court on Thursday granted a request to delay the appeal of Chilean Nicolas Zepeda, convicted of the 2016 murder of his Japanese ex-girlfriend Narumi Kurosaki, after the defendant’s lawyer was changed at the last moment.

Francois Arnaud, presiding judge at the court in Vesoul, eastern France, did not give a date for the later session as he accepted the arguments of Zepeda’s new representatives that they needed more time to grasp thousands of pages of case files.

The appeal hearing had been suspended on Tuesday, its first day, as Zepeda’s lawyer told the presiding judge he had been dismissed and the Chilean named a new one.

“I want a real trial,” the 32-year-old defendant told the jury at the time.

On Thursday, Zepeda added that “I did not dismiss Mr (Antoine) Vey,” as his previous lawyer had told the court, saying “I am not responsible for this situation”.

Vey’s office declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Kurosaki’s mother and two sisters, who had travelled from Japan to attend the appeal hearings, broke down in tears in the courtroom at the news of the suspension.

Their representative Sylvie Galley said they had been “taken hostage” by the accused.

– ‘ Stakes are real’ –

Zepeda’s new defender, Renaud Portejoie, asked for a new slot in “early autumn” for the appeal hearing.

Zepeda was sentenced in April last year to 28 years in jail for the murder of Kurosaki, then aged 21, in December 2016.

Kurosaki, a brilliant scholarship student, arrived in the eastern French city of Besancon that summer to learn French. She disappeared on December 4.

Zepeda, with whom she had broken up a year before, was the last person to see her alive.

Facing life in jail, he has insisted he is innocent.

Portejoie told daily L’Est Republicain newspaper on Wednesday that he faced an “impossible mission of defending Nicolas Zepeda and getting to know an 8,000-page file in 24 hours”.

“The stakes are real for Nicolas Zepeda… but also for the plaintiffs,” Portejoie said.

– ‘Screams of terror’ –

Prosecutors said in the first trial that Zepeda was unable to deal with the couple’s breakup, coming to Besancon to kill Kurosaki in her student dorm room before dumping the body in the forests of the rugged Jura region.

They pointed to evidence from witnesses, telephone records and geolocation of the car Zepeda hired.

The Chilean has admitted spending the night with Kurosaki in December, claiming he ran into her by chance while travelling through France.

But several witnesses reported hearing “screams of terror” and thuds “as if someone was striking someone else” — though none called the police at the time.

But so far no trace has been found of Kurosaki’s remains.

While Zepeda himself has not spoken publicly about the facts of the case, his father Humberto on Wednesday listed a string of responses to the prosecution’s claims in an interview with broadcaster France 3.

He said there were no eyewitnesses and claimed two people were “certain” they had seen Kurosaki in different places since her disappearance.

Randall Schwerdorffer, representing the man Kurosaki was dating at the time of her death, Arthur del Piccolo, called the interview an attempt to “manipulate” and “misinform” viewers “to make them believe Narumi is still alive”.

He added that he expected “the guilty verdict to be confirmed” in the appeal.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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