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A former French soldier who has admitted killing an eight-year-old girl, a case that shook the country nearly four years ago, appeared in court Monday on charges he also beat a man to death just a few months before.

Nordahl Lelandais, 38, was brought from prison to the courthouse in Chambery, a town in the French Alps where the victim, also a soldier, was last seen after leaving a nightclub.

He has admitted to killing Corporal Arthur Noyer, 23, in the early hours of April 12, 2017, after picking him up as he hitchhiked.

Lelandais has also confessed to killing eight-year-old Maelys de Araujo in August 2017, in a case that horrified France and which is set to go to trial next year.

He has insisted that both deaths were accidental, but his confessions prompted the reopening of investigations into dozens of other disappearances to see if he was linked to these unsolved cases.

More than 100 journalists watched as he entered under heavy police escort, wearing a face mask and a dark cap pulled low over his eyes.

“Yes I killed Arthur Noyer, but I never wanted to kill him,” Lelandais told the court, where Noyer’s parents and brother sat with an oversize portrait of the victim.

Lelandais’s lawyers also managed to obtain the withdrawal of one of several psychiatric evaluations, citing potential bias by one of the experts who had discussed the case on popular TV show.

But Bernard Boulloud, lawyer for the Noyer family, said he was confident the jurors would have sufficient insight into Lelandais’s personality, “because he will reveal it to us on his own”.

Body in the trunk

The trial has been widely anticipated, with mass-market daily Le Parisien putting Lelandais’s portrait on its front page under the headline “The Secrets of a Predator”.

He told police that Noyer had struck him in a parking lot where they had stopped, prompting a fight that ended when Noyer was knocked out.

But prosecutors say Lelandais knew full well he was killing Noyer, and then put his body in the trunk of his car and drove it some 20 kilometres (12 miles) away to dump it on the side of a road.

They have charged him with voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Investigators only linked Lelandais to Noyer’s death after he was arrested over the murder of Maelys, who vanished in the early hours of August 27, 2017, while attending a wedding near Chambery with her parents.

Police searched for months for the girl before arresting Lelandais, who was also a guest at the wedding. He finally led them to her remains in February 2018 after traces of her blood were found in his car.

The two cases sparked fears that Lelandais could be involved in dozens of other unsolved disappearances in the region, and investigators reopened several cases after reviewing his background and movements over several years.

Despite three years of inquiries, however, and psychiatric exams that have revealed signs of Lelandais’s “pathological lying”, no evidence has emerged to link Lelandais to other cases.

The trial over Noyer’s killing is set to run until May 12. His trial over Maelys’s death is expected next year.

(AFP)



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