This is not only the story of a murder, but of the first "femicide" mediatized as such in France. At the beginning of the documentary series, Alexia, autopsy of a femicide (1), the first two episodes of which were released on MyCanal on Saturday, November 25, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Thomas Chagnaud, its director, does not fail to remind us that this is the first murder of a woman qualified as such in the public space. The first of many. "Alexia was the 147th woman in 2017, and it was from her that we began to publicly count the number of women killed by their husbands," reads the black background at the start of the first episode.
To this chilling figure is added the image and sound: an archival video showing a young woman of only 29 years old playing with her nephew at her parents' house on the evening of the little boy's birthday. Alexia Fouillot - known as Daval, her married name - died a few hours later, on the night of October 28 in Gray, a small town in Haute-Saône, at the hands of her husband, Jonathann Daval. If the whole of France knows, since then, the face of his murderer, who has aped for several weeks his innocence in front of the cameras, that of the victim was quickly forgotten. With this documentary series, Alexia's family wanted to revive her memory as a woman and a human being. For her, but also for all the other victims.
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"She was my oxygen"
It was around 10 a.m. when Jonathann Daval knocked on the door of the Fouillots, Isabelle and Jean-Pierre, on October 28, 2017. The night before, he had dinner at their house, his in-laws, joining his wife for the birthday of little James, the son of Stephanie, Alexia's sister. While the 33-year-old was slightly reprimanded by her for being late, the evening ended with warm hugs. So, when Jonathann Daval arrives at the Fouillots' home on Saturday, visibly panicked, Isabelle and Jean-Pierre don't understand. With his blue eyes and angelic face, he stutters that their daughter hasn't come home from her jog, which he started several hours earlier. At first, the family did not panic, but was precipitated by their son-in-law's concern and took the first initiatives. Isabelle, the mother, then tries to call Alexia. Jonathann and Grégory Gay, his brother-in-law, set off in a car to resume his journey, before finally pushing open the doors of the gendarmerie to warn of a disturbing disappearance. Grégory Gay remembers Jonathann's first statement: "I find him evasive, even passive," he recalls in Alexia, autopsy of a femicide, before asking him: "Do you really have nothing more to say to them?"
Alexia, with blonde hair and a bright smile, was tortured, punched several times in the face, strangled for four long minutes, and then partially burned. "She was massacred," her mother, Isabelle Fouillot, dares to say today.
The gendarmerie immediately took the matter seriously. The town of Gray saw many measures put in place to find the young bank employee: helicopters flew over the Hauts-Bois national forest, which runs alongside the municipality, and residents left in groups to look for her. Behind the scenes, clairvoyants and other marabouts even contact the family to share their visions and locate them, while everyone hopes she is still alive. On 30 October, two days after her husband raised the alarm, Alexia's body was finally found, hidden under branches at the edge of the Bois d'Esmoulins, not far from Gray. Alexia, with blonde hair and a bright smile, was tortured, punched several times in the face, strangled for four long minutes, and then partially burned. "She was massacred," Isabelle Fouillot dares to pronounce today. When the discovery was announced, Jonathann Daval collapsed. Curled up in on himself and with misty eyes, he will never leave this posture, that of a grieving widower. For several weeks, we will see him huddled together, nurtured by his parents-in-law, Isabelle and Jean-Pierre, playing the card of a weak, fragile man who is very much in love with his wife, whom he had met at school. "She was my oxygen," he said in a quavering voice, two roses in hand, during a white march in her honor in November 2017 in Gray, closely followed by 10,000 mourners.
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Jonathann Daval surrounded by his in-laws, Isabelle and Jean-Pierre Fouillot. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP
The right to "run" without being killed
Because this legal case is certainly one of the most publicized in France in recent years, as it has created a stir throughout the country and especially among women. When Alexia's death was announced, thousands of French women put on their sneakers and sportswear to honour the deceased and show their indignation. We run in Gray, of course, wearing a white armband, but also in Besançon or along the banks of the Seine in Paris. On November 3, at 10:30 a.m., a race is planned to start from the Place de la Bastille to pay tribute to her and more broadly to all women "victims of aggression". Each participant wears a black or pink scarf, in the colours of the clothes she was wearing on the day of her disappearance. Moved by this solidarity beyond borders, Isabelle Fouillot spoke a few days later on television: "Jogging was my daughter's favourite activity and I encourage everyone to run. (...) We shouldn't have the right to take that freedom away from us." A movement is emerging, a demand: the right to run, at any time of the day or night, without taking the risk of being killed. But if we still believe in a prowler and an unpremeditated murder, the truth is quite different for the investigators, whose suspicions are more focused on the husband.
Jonathann Daval tries to paint another portrait of Alexia with the Fouillot family and the police: that of a castrating, violent woman.
"I said to Jonathann, 'I hope you have a good alibi because the husband is always the first suspect in the disappearance of a woman,'" predicted Lydia Fouillot, one of Alexia's aunts. Although the family is far from suspecting the guilt of the man they describe as the "ideal son-in-law", the latter's inconsistent behaviour, from the very beginning of the investigation, disturbs the police: the man is sometimes too sorrowful, sometimes not enough. Always sobbing in front of journalists, his behind-the-scenes actions leave some dumbfounded. Like on November 8, 2017, when he went to his wife's funeral dressed in his wedding suit, as if it were a happy day. But above all, there is this portrait of Alexia, which he tries to paint with the Fouillot family and the police: that of a castrating, violent woman. A few days before the gendarmes found the body, he had shown off wounds on his arms in front of his in-laws, assuring that they were Alexia's mark. Perhaps he was building up his possible alibi in case he was soon unmasked? Arrested and placed in police custody on January 29, 2018, Jonathann Daval first confessed to the murder and then retracted his statement, assuring that he knew the identity of the killer: his brother-in-law Grégory Gay, husband of Stéphanie, Alexia's sister.
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A Women's Affair
The Fouillot family fumed. Because Jonathann Daval maintains it: his wife was strangled to death by her brother-in-law Grégory Gay, in front of everyone's eyes, after an argument on the evening of the birthday of little James, Alexia's nephew. Isabelle, Jean-Pierre, Stéphanie and her husband can't believe it. Now we have to justify ourselves. In 2018, a confrontation was finally organized between the defendants, at the Besançon High Court. And since the Alexia Daval affair is a women's affair, it is thanks to the mother, Isabelle, that it will finally be resolved. Faced with the woman who has welcomed him into his family for years, the stepson can no longer hold his lie, collapsing on her knees to ask for "forgiveness". Jonathann Daval is the only murderer of his wife, whom he confesses to having beaten and strangled before carrying her body into the woods and setting it on fire. What for? The real causes are still a mystery.
The only conclusive clue is that Alexia wanted more than anything to have a child. Her husband didn't want it. A few months before her death, she had suffered a miscarriage and was having a hard time with it. Toxicological analyses revealed the presence of numerous drugs in the deceased's blood: painkillers, muscle relaxants and tramadol: products incompatible with her desire to become pregnant. Jonathann Daval then confessed to having drugged his wife without her knowledge for months, so that she could not get pregnant, adding a little more to the horror of his crime. On June 17, 2019, a re-enactment took place in the presence of the Fouillots. A moment as painful as it is liberating.
"We offer flowers, but we don't kill"
After the demonstrations of joggers running in the four corners of France, the Alexia Daval case has thus taken another turn, perhaps more large. Why are women not safe at home or outside? Following Jonathann Daval's confession, many feminist movements raised their fists so that this crime should not be treated as a news item, nor as a "crime of passion", but as a "femicide", a precise term to mean the murder of a woman because of her gender. Anger and demands arose in the face of the "scandalous" defense of Jonathann Daval, whose lawyer has repeatedly claimed that his client was a "beaten man", having to deal with Alexia's "overwhelming personality". At the end of November 2020, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Haute-Saône Assize Court, in Vesoul, after five days of deliberations. He has since been prosecuted by Grégory Gay for slanderous denunciation during the 2018 investigation. A first hearing is scheduled for January 2024.
The case had a great impact on the public and the public authorities. Particularly touched by Alexia's tragedy and the arguments of Jonathann Daval's defence, Marlène Schiappa, who was, five years ago, Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men, had rebelled on Twitter, also using the notion of "femicide": "Nothing justifies, excuses that one beats, kills one's wife! Nothing! The idea is to say that every time a woman is a victim of violence, and in this case femicide, there are reasons that would justify the fact that this woman was a victim." These words were applauded by the entire Fouillot family, starting with Isabelle, the mother. Which reminds us of the obvious: "We give flowers out of love, we make a restaurant for two out of love, we give an engagement ring out of love. But we don't kill."
(1) Alexia - Autopsy of a femicide, by Thomas Chagnaud, documentary series in 4 episodes of 52 minutes, available on MyCanal