The room is located on the 2nd floor of a house in Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze), is furnished with a high iron bed and has no heating.
It is there, in the "cold room", as the occupants of the premises called it, that Sabine (
the first name has been changed
) claims to have been raped by "uncle Manu".
These four walls would have housed part of the long ordeal denounced at the age of 28 by this woman, now 36 years old and mother of a family.
Sabine claims to have been, from 6 to 20 years old, the regular victim of her uncle and godfather. Thirty years later, Francis P., 47, is tried from this Monday in Tulle before the Assize Court of Minors of Corrèze, accused of rape and aggravated sexual assault on his niece between 1991 and 2005. This father of a child, who has always denied the facts and insinuated that a third person could have entered the "cold room" which was nevertheless his but where "there was a lot of passage", appears free afterwards an incredible procedural error.
In March 2019, the Haute-Vienne Assize Court of Appeal declared itself incompetent to retry the accused, sentenced to 14 years of criminal imprisonment at first instance on September 12, 2018 in Limoges, on the grounds that he was a minor for part of the facts, namely from January to August 1991. The latter should have been tried by a court of assizes for minors, in accordance with the order of 45 in the case of an accused who had become of full age and prosecuted for acts committed when he was between 16 and 18 years old.
Consequences: the verdict of Limoges was overturned and Francis P. released on the spot.
An intimate anatomical detail
"No one had noticed this blunder before, it's unheard of", underlines Me Gilles-Jean Portejoie, who at the time became Francis P.'s lawyer, still under judicial supervision.
"We avoided a legal shipwreck, it is now a question of avoiding a miscarriage of justice because I am convinced of the innocence of this man", adds the criminal who will plead the acquittal of the forty-something caught by the late revelations of his niece .
Released from the "psychological hold" exercised according to her by her uncle, Sabine lodged a complaint in 2013 in Toulon (Var).
She then denounces sexual abuse that occurred in the "cold room", during stays with her maternal grandparents where her uncle lived and where she found refuge, child then adolescent, to escape the excesses of her parents with real educational deficiencies.
The young woman also claims to have been abused in a public garden in Brive, in the caves of Lamouroux in Noailles (Corrèze) or at her uncle's home or in his car.
In support of her statements, Sabine delivers an intimate anatomical detail of the suspect, and evokes the constraint of this parent, twelve years her senior, describing her emotional blackmail but also favors (candies, CDs, money, etc.).
The fear of breaking up your family
This child, who grew up in a family environment devoid of love and protection, would have experienced these imposed acts by feeling worthy of interest for adults.
Having come of age, she remained ashamed, guilty and disgusted.
The expert psychologist has, moreover, noted in Sabine an intense post-traumatic syndrome.
Another element supporting her credibility, as the prosecution notes, the complainant had confided much earlier to several relatives about the alleged actions of her uncle. However, she had not dared to go to court for fear, she explains, of him, and of breaking up his family. The prosecution emphasizes his "constant and detailed" account, unlike the "versatility" of the versions of Francis P., placed in police custody on December 10, 2014.
The suspect immediately denied the facts, minimizing his relations with his niece, even going so far as to locate the room where he slept with his parents - the famous "cold room" - on the 1st floor of the house in Brive.
During his next hearing, Francis P. argued that Sabine had filed a complaint against him because she had not obtained the money hoped for from her grandfather during the sale of real estate, and that she avenged himself because he was the member of the family with the most resources.
The only concession, he ended up admitting the existence of the "cold room".
Despite his denials, a psychological expertise revealing no perversity or violence, and the support of relatives who never believed in Sabine's story, the uncle will be indicted.
"Without doing a day of pre-trial detention", supports Me Portejoie.
"Waiting for easily accessible sexual opportunities"
Seized after the annulment of the 2018 verdict, the investigative chamber of the Limoges court of appeal re-examined the case.
In particular, it validated the procedure by considering that Francis P., who was 41 at the time of the proceedings against him, did not have to be treated according to the specific rules applicable to minors for his custody and during the investigation.
On the prescription side, the court retained all the rapes denounced, but only the aggravated sexual attacks between 2000 and 2003.
On the merits, the Court of Appeal considered in particular that Sabine's accusations were compatible with personality traits of Francis P., depicted by experts as "a young man awaiting sexual opportunities easily accessible to him and in search for an object of transition and learning about one's sexuality ”.
She therefore ordered his arraignment.
The assize court for minors in Corrèze will have three days to clarify the dark mysteries of the "cold room".
Behind closed doors this time.