This content is not available in your region

Maëlys de Araujo: Former soldier convicted of French girl's kidnap and murder

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AFP
Flowers laid in front of a painting of Maelys de Araujo in the Grenoble courthouse.
Flowers laid in front of a painting of Maelys de Araujo in the Grenoble courthouse.   -   Copyright  JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

A former French soldier has been found guilty of kidnapping and murdering an eight-year-old girl in a high-profile trial.

Nordahl Lelandais was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 22-year sentence, on Friday for murdering Maëlys de Araujo in 2017. He had previously admitted to killing her "involuntarily".

Public prosecutors had described the 38-year-old former soldier as an "absolute social danger" and a "major criminal, a major predator".

His lawyers confirmed that Lelandais will not appeal the decision.

Lelandais was already serving a 20-year prison sentence for murdering another young soldier, Arthur Noyer, in April 2017.

The former soldier, who was working as a dog trainer, was also found guilty of sexually abusing two young cousins -- aged 4 and 6 -- in their sleep, two weeks before Maelys’ death.

Investigations have also led authorities to suspect Lelandais of other unsolved crimes in the Alps region.

The death of Maëlys de Araujo in August 2017 sent shockwaves across France. The eight-year-girl disappeared from a wedding in the French Alps in the town of Pont-de-Beauvoisin, prompting a widespread search.

Investigators identified Lelandais -- who had attended the wedding reception -- as the main suspect in her kidnapping.

The court in Grenoble heard how he had invited Maëlys to see his dogs in his car before returning to the wedding when the girl was reported missing.

Maëlys' body was not discovered until six months later after Lelandais admitted to killing her amid mounting evidence and a trace of her blood was found in his car.

BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP
A court sketch shows Nordahl Lelandais on the last day of his trial.BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP

Lelandais had told investigators that he had hit her several times in the face, without intending to kill her.

During his trial, he then admitted to having killed her "voluntarily" after panicking and experiencing a "hallucination" of Noyer's face.

Lelandais apologised "sincerely" to the girl's family on the final day of his trial on Friday.

"I recognise all the facts that I am accused of, with sincerity," he told the court. "I know that the families will never accept my apology but I owe it to them to present it with the utmost sincerity."

Maëlys' family have dismissed his statements and demanded more answers from the accused.

Lelandais has previously admitted to a drug and alcohol problem and that he was sexually attracted to young girls. He has also been charged with sexually assaulting another 14-year-old cousin in the Ardennes.

"Knowing why is essential to me and my family. I want to know if you raped my sister," said Maëlys' now 16-year-old sister.

The eight-year-old girl's relatives arrived at the court on Friday wearing black t-shirts picturing her face.

A large banner proclaiming "Truth and justice for you Maëlys, We will never give up" was also displayed outside the courthouse.