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Paris trial for Israeli hit-and-run death halted after lawyer attacked

Defense lawyer punched during recess of proceeedings for Lee Zeitouni, killed in 2011 Tel Aviv crash

The parents of Lee Zeitouni, who was killed in a hit-and-run in 2011, arrive at the courthouse in Paris, November 27, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)
The parents of Lee Zeitouni, who was killed in a hit-and-run in 2011, arrive at the courthouse in Paris, November 27, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)

PARIS — The Paris trial of two Frenchmen accused of killing a young Israeli woman in a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv was halted Thursday after a defense lawyer was assaulted during a break in proceedings.

An unidentified man punched Regis Meliodon, a lawyer for one of the defendants, in the face during a break in the trial and then fled.

The trial will pick up again on Wednesday with statements from the defence and prosecutors.

The assault underscored the strong emotions surrounding the 2011 tragedy, which sparked outrage in Israel after the pair fled to France.

Eric Robic, who has confessed to being behind the wheel at the time, faces charges of aggravated manslaughter and not providing aid to a person in distress.

He could be jailed for 10 years and fined 150,000 euros ($187,000) if convicted.

The passenger, Claude Khayat, stands accused of the lesser charge of not providing aid to a person in distress and faces a possible 75,000 euro fine.

Lee Zeitouni (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lee Zeitouni (photo credit: Courtesy)

They are accused of causing the death of Lee Zeitouni, a 25-year-old pilates instructor who was crossing the road to get to work on the morning of September 16, 2011, when she was hit by the 4X4 driven by Robic.

Meliodon, a lawyer for Khayat, said his client “was looking forward to this moment, to offer explanations and apologize to the family.”

Zeitouni’s parents flew to France to attend the trial and both burst out crying during the deliberations, Ynet reported. Friends of the young woman and supporters from the local Jewish community also went to the trial but were not let into the courtroom, according to the report.

“We have an opportunity to tell the world that justice can be served, and people cannot run away from it,” said Roy Peled, Zeitouni’s boyfriend, who has campaigned in Israel and abroad to raise awareness about the case.

Robic’s lawyer, Francoise Cotta, said her client “of course” regretted the incident and added: “I hope that justice can be served in a calm fashion.”

A court sketch shows French defendants Eric Robic (L) and Claude Khayat (R) standing trial on November 27, 2014 at the courtroom in Paris on charges of a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv that killed a young Israeli woman, Lee Zeitouni, a 25-year-old pilates instructor, and sparked outrage in Israel after the pair fled to France. (Photo credit: AFP/ BENOIT PEYRUCQ)
A court sketch shows French defendants Eric Robic (L) and Claude Khayat (R) standing trial on November 27, 2014 at the courtroom in Paris on charges of a hit-and-run road accident in Tel Aviv that killed a young Israeli woman, Lee Zeitouni, a 25-year-old pilates instructor, and sparked outrage in Israel after the pair fled to France. (Photo credit: AFP/ BENOIT PEYRUCQ)

The victim’s family would have preferred it to have taken place in Israel, their lawyer said.

“But this is better than nothing and they have arrived with confidence,” added the lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel.

He described Robic as a “habitual road criminal” who showed “rare cowardice” in deciding to flee the scene.

The lawyer said it was “fortunate” that courts have been harsher on what he termed “road criminals” in recent years.

Witnesses said the car was travelling at approximately 100 kilometres per hour (62 miles per hour) in a zone where the maximum speed limit was half that on the day of the hit-and-run.

The two men had just left a nightclub where they had consumed alcohol, according to witnesses.

They did not stop after the accident and immediately fled to France, prompting a huge outcry in Israel.

Pressure mounted on France to return the men to Israel to face trial, but France does not extradite its citizens outside the European Union.

Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed the family would get justice if a trial took place in France but stood firm against extradition, sparking a diplomatic spat with Tel Aviv.

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