The resurrections of the last man sentenced to death in France and the lawyer who gave him a gun

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The opening story of Brigitte Hemmerlin and Philippe Maurice reads like a crime thriller. Hemmerlin was a newly-qualified lawyer when she smuggled a gun to Philippe Maurice, the last person to be sentenced to death in France, during a prison visit. Maurice, who used the gun in a bloody break-out attempt, eventually received a presidential pardon from death row and served a life sentence. Hemmerlin was sentenced to five years in jail and barred from legal practice. Their lives have radically changed since those events more than 30 years ago, and both have just published books based on their experiences. Hemmerlin’s is a novel, while Maurice, now a researcher of medieval history with the prestigious EHESS social sciences school, tells his story through a biography of his mother. Dominique Conil and Nicolas Serve report.

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In 1980, 23 year-old Philippe Maurice, a red-haired tearaway with a criminal record, was sentenced to death for the murders of two police officers. In December 1979, Maurice, on the run from prison where he was serving preventive detention after already helping his brother escape jail, had refused to stop his car in a Paris street when flagged down by police, and the resultant car chase through the capital ended in a shoot out and the deaths of the two officers and his passenger.