French ex soldier faces life in prison for murder of 8-year-old girl

Former French soldier Nordahl Lelandais has been summoned to the criminal court of Isère on Monday for the killing of 8-year-old Maëlys De Araujo in 2017. He is also accused of sexually abusing minors.

A courtroom sketch of Nordahl Lelandais.
A courtroom sketch of Nordahl Lelandais. Image Marie Williams/AFP

Lelandais, 38, a dog trainer and former soldier in the French army, could face a life sentence following a criminal court hearing in Isère that begins on Monday. 

He is accused of kidnapping and killing an 8-year-old girl, Maëlys de Araujo, in August 2017 – a crime that shook France and to which Lelandais has already admitted. He also faces charges of sexually abusing two minors during their sleep. 

Speaking on BFMTV last week, Jennifer de Araujo, the mother of Maëlys didn’t hold back. 

“You are a dirty monster, a pedophile,” she said. 

“That is all he is, a monster. He cannot even be categorised as human. She had all of her life in front of her. He decided to take her life.”

Lelandais kidnapped Maëlys from a wedding in the French Alps in 2017, telling the young girl that he would take her to see his dogs. Her body was found six months later. 

The former soldier, who had attended the wedding and returned to it hours after the abduction, was quickly identified as a suspect and, after scientific analysis uncovered traces of blood in the trunk of his car, admitted in 2018: “This poor little girl, I accidentally killed her”. 

David Amanou, a lawyer unrelated to the case, explained that a hearing to examine the facts will be held, even though Lelandais has already admitted guilt. 

“There is always need for a hearing,” he said. “Often there can be a long delay, sometimes up to ten years, because the French justice system is overloaded.

“The more attention the case gets from the media, the longer this case can go on as there is lots of scrutiny.”

The three-week proceedings will be used by the judge to determine how long Lelandais will be sentenced for. 

Lelandais was issued a 20-year sentence last year for the murder of another soldier, Arthur Noyer, in 2017. 

Prosecutors suspect that Lelandais may be a serial killer and reopened 900 unsolved criminal investigations and cases of disappearance in 2018 – to no avail. Despite more than three years of inquiries and psychiatric exams that have revealed signs of Lelandais’s “pathological lying,” no evidence has emerged to link Lelandais to other cases. 

When sentenced for the killing of Noyer, Lelandais admitted to prosecutors that he had a drug and alcohol problem and that he was sexually attracted to young girls. 

At the hearing, Lelandais will face charges of abusing a five and six year old while on vacation in the south of France. He has already confessed to these acts – one of which was shot on his mobile phone. 

He is also accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old cousin in the north of France. Police continue to investigate whether Lelandais was involved in other crimes. 

A verdict from the hearing is expected on February 18th, more than four years on from the murder of Maëlys. 

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.