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Jury is out at Jewish Museum trial

© Igor Preys/Belga
© Igor Preys/Belga

The jury in the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer has now retired to consider its verdict, which may be delivered at any moment. The two men are accused of involvement in the attack in May 2014 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in which four people were shot. Three victims died at the scene; a fourth later in hospital.

The 12 jurors are accompanied in their deliberations by the judge leading the bench and two assessors. They do not, however, take part in the question of guilt; their role is to provide legal advice if requested. The jurors will have access to the full case file, including photographs and video footage.

The deliberations are taking place in a Brussels hotel, in order to be able to provide better security protection than those available at the Justice Palace. In an adjoining room, the substitute jurors are standing by to step in if for any reason one of the main jurors becomes indisposed.

The jury has a total of 56 questions to consider. For Nemmouche, the main accused, there is one main question for each of the four people shot dead in the attack: Is he guilty of having carried out a terrorist attack, in voluntarily committing homicide on the named person with intent to kill?

If the answer is yes, there follows a question, again for each victim, on premeditation. If the jury answers no, it was no a terrorist attack, then the question becomes: did he commit homicide with premeditation?

For Nacer Bendrer, the other accused, the jury must decide whether he is an accomplice of Nemmouche, having lent him active assistance, or a co-defendant, where his assistance must be considered indispensable.

There are also supplementary questions relating to the arms involved in the crime.

Once they have decided, the jurors fill out the question form in writing. We will never know what the balance of jurors in favour of the final verdict is, unless there is an absolute tie, in which case the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused. In the case of a 7-5 majority, the court steps in to settle the matter one way or the other.

Once the verdict is decided, all voting ballots are destroyed, leaving no trace of who voted how.

In the case of a guilty verdict, the jury then moves into the penalty phase of the proceedings, where the defence counsel may again present arguments on the sentences. Finally, jury and court decide together what the sentence will be.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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