GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A Swiss university professor with an American passport who was sexually assaulted 18 years ago while a student in the US has found herself dealing with the US justice system, not over the sexual violence itself, but over the 1995 murder of the alleged offender, in a nightmarish turn of events.
The woman was arrested in late 2012 when she visited the US on business, one of several trips she had taken since she left the country some years earlier. (Ed. note: her name cannot be published in Switzerland because of privacy protection laws)
She has pleaded not guilty to charges of special circumstance murder related to a kidnapping, filed in the US in December. Her ex-husband plus two others arrested in late 2012 face a variety of felony charges, including murder and kidnapping; a fifth person who was a suspect in the case committed suicide in 2012 in a police standoff.
Court records, according to local media who have followed the story, show that the woman told her then ex-boyfriend about the sexual assault several days after it took place. The former boyfriend and some of his friends began to look for the alleged offender.
The group, including the woman who now works in Switzerland, is accused of then chasing, cornering and killing him. But the roles of those involved were never clarified in the months following the crime, and she denied accusations against her. The woman married the ex-boyfriend – they were divorced 10 years later.
She left behind the working class neighborhood where both of them came from, and thanks to numerous scholarships she moved into the international academic world, where she has an excellent reputation.
Under US law, while the two were married she could not be asked to bear witness against her husband, although he was a suspect in the murder, and the court case foundered for lack of clear evidence.
It was the death of the fifth suspect that brought the dormant murder case back to life, when DNA taken matched DNA at the scene of the 1995 crime.
The victim of the sexual assault, if found guilty of a role in the murder, could face life in prison, but her lawyer says he believes the charges will be dropped. She is currently not teaching and the university says it cannot comment on an open court case, beyond insisting on the principle that she is innocent unless proven guilty.
It appears likely that the woman will be called as a witness against the others in the case.
The court’s willingness to release her to travel abroad could be a positive sign for her pending case: her US passport was handed back to her and she was allowed to return to France, where she and her family live. France does not generally extradite suspects in US criminal cases, a cause of friction between the two countries in a number of past cases.