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Illegal cab driver on trial for murder of Swedish student

The father and brother of Susana Zeterberg, Carl Zeterberg, center, and Samuel Zeterberg leave the courtroom at the courthouse in Paris, on September 4, 2012. (AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG)

PARIS: The trial opened in Paris Tuesday of an illegal taxi driver and convicted rapist alleged to have kidnapped and brutally murdered a Swedish student after picking her up outside a Paris nightclub.

The 2008 murder of Susanna Zetterberg, a 19-year-old from Stockholm studying French and working part-time in a cafe in the French capital, caused widespread shock and disgust in France and Sweden after her partially burnt body was discovered near Paris.

Bruno Cholet, 55, denies the kidnapping and murder charges, claiming police fabricated the evidence against him.

He faces spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted in the trial, which is scheduled to run until September 14.

Cholet, an overweight man wearing thick glasses, was impassive as Judge Xaviere Simeoni asked him to give his name and address at the opening of the trial. He mumbled some answers and at one point appeared confused about the proceedings.

Immediately after jury selection, Cholet told guards he was "about to throw up and was sent to hospital for medical tests, prompting the judge to adjourn the trial until Wednesday.

Zetterberg's mother, father and brother were seated in the front row, surrounded by their lawyers and a Swedish interpreter.

"We hope that maybe, finally, the truth will be told," the family's lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne told journalists outside the court. "Against all evidence, Bruno Cholet denies his part in these events."

The family said nothing to journalists as they entered the court, but Zetterberg's mother Asa Palmqvist told French media on the eve of the trial that she was convinced Cholet was guilty.

"The important thing is to convict him, to prove that it was him. I will never be able to forgive him," she said, adding: "We are not expecting him to confess."

Cholet's lawyers said the accused continued to deny any involvement in the killing and claimed police had set him up by planting evidence.

"He has insisted on his innocence since the beginning, he wants to express himself" at the trial, defence lawyer Aurelie Cerceau told journalists.

"The investigation was based from the outset on his guilt," said another defence lawyer, Luc Ravaz.

Zetterberg was last seen leaving a nightclub and entering a taxi in central Paris at around 4:45 am on April 19, 2008.

Later the same day her partially burnt body was discovered in the Chantilly forest, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Paris. She had been shot at least four times in the head and had her hands tied behind her back with a brand of handcuffs sold in sex shops.

The state of her body made it impossible to establish if she had suffered a sexual assault.

Traced though files on unlicensed cab drivers and images of a man seen using Zetterberg's bank cards following the murder, Cholet was arrested six days after her killing.

Shortly after his arrest, a pistol, bullets, rubber gloves and handcuffs were found in Cholet's car, some of the material containing traces of Zetterberg's DNA, according to the prosecution case.

Police also reported the discovery in the car of a plastic bag with the victim's name written incorrectly as "Susana 377" on it in felt pen.

As well as having been charged five times for operating an illegal cab, the accused has a string of serious convictions, including three for rape and one for armed robbery.

 

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