To pronounce the name of Jean-Louis Pelletier is to immediately see thugs appear in bell-bottoms, crossed jackets and rectangular smoked glasses. Jacques Mesrine, “public enemy number 1”, Albert Spaggiari, the mastermind of the “heist of the century” in the bowels of Société Générale in Nice, Edmond Vidal, known as “Monmon”, of the Lyonnais gang, Francis the Belgian and so many others who were his clients. The lawyer, who died Tuesday, October 11, at 86, in Paris, takes with him an era. That of the “fierce in arms”, the “handsome guys” and the “aristos robbers”. The one, too, where a plea could turn everything upside down and save – or not – the head of an accused from the blade of the guillotine.
“You have done your job, I will do mine”, François Mitterrand, during the signing of the presidential pardon decree
Jean-Louis Pelletier was 29 years old and four years at the helm when the man he defended, Antonio Abbate, was sentenced to death. The penalist from Hyères (Var), registered with the Marseille bar like his master Emile Pollak, took the plane for the first time in his life on July 13, 1965, and came to the Elysée to ask for the pardon of the President of the Republic Charles de Gaulle. The interview lasts eight minutes. Pardon is granted and the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Sixteen years later, the lawyer with a southern accent who opened a law firm on the Quai de Montebello, in the 5e arrondissement of Paris, a few steps from the Ile de la Cité and the Palais de Justice, is entering the Elysée for the second time. In this month of May 1981, in the company of his colleague and friend Philippe Lemaire, he came to seek from the newly elected president, François Mitterrand, the pardon of his client, Philippe Maurice, sentenced to death by the Paris Assize Court on October 28, 1980 for the murder of a peacekeeper. “You did your job, I’ll do mine” responds the President of the Republic to the two defenders, signing the pardon decree.
Loyalty of big thugs
When the lawyer Robert Badinter, who had become a Keeper of the Seals, went up to the podium of the National Assembly on September 17, 1981 to vote for the abolition of the death penalty, the “gang of four” who carried this fight for so years – Henri Leclerc, Philippe Lemaire, Thierry Lévy, Jean-Louis Pelletier – has already returned to the assize courts. “I am not the lawyer on the right, not the lawyer on the left, I am the lawyer in the middle”, joked Jean-Louis Pelletier, who knew the France of prisons and courthouses by heart.
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