Moment of truth for Olivia Ronen as she steps up to defend Salah Abdeslam

Issued on: 24/06/2022 – 11:58

Salah Abdeslam is the sole surviving member of the terrorist group that attacked venues in or near Paris on 13 November 2015. On Friday his defense team, Martin Vettes and Olivia Ronen, will attempt to save him from spending the rest of his life behind bars.

They don’t have an easy job. Abdeslam has been a handful for Vettes and Ronen.

Their client has been both silently and noisily provocative, he has played the unrepentant Islamic State hard man and the weeping victim of circumstance.

Abdeslam has justified terrorism as legitimate defense, and has claimed that he pulled back from being the agent of violent death because of his humanity. Not everyone has been convinced.

Olivia Ronen is too intelligent to have illusions about her client’s prospects. He is, objectively and by his own admission, guilty of serious breaches of the law. He will suffer the consequences.

But Ronen may be able to save Abdeslam from life in prison without the possibility of parole.

She will attempt to do that with her characteristic energy and insolence. She does not believe that the defense has anything to gain by being soft-spoken, mild. There are unanswered questions in the case against her client. She will exploit them to the limit.

Olivia Ronen learned the trade of criminal defense in the shadow of Thierry Lévy, a mythical figure in the profession, non-conformist, anti-imprisonment, a rebel.

She was chosen by Salah Abdeslam himself.

Swimming against the current

The past two weeks of final pleading have shown the range of possibilities which this crucial exercise offers to the defense.

The counsel representing the accused are the last of the legal teams to speak. They intervened immediately after the measured, relentless presentation by the prosecution.

The job of the defense is to demolish the edifice of legal fact established by the state investigators, to suggest alternative readings of the evidence, to instill a doubt in the minds of the judges who will retire next week to decide on the guilt or innocence of each of the accused, and the appropriate punishments for those they find guilty.

And the best of them have given the court a glimpse of the human personalities they defend, with whom they have established relationships of respect, of admiration, of love, over the long months of preparation for this seemingky endless trial.

Over the past two weeks, the defense teams have been occasionally flamboyant, frequently surprising, always hard-working in the interests of their clients. The rhetorical styles have been as varied as the personalities of the individual lawyers.

Olivia Ronen will be the last of them to address the court on Friday afternoon.

This 32-year-old who says she likes to cultivate “difference”, who swims against the current of her profession, will need all her imagination and all her considerable ability if she is to save another 32-year-old, Salah Abdeslam, from life imprisonment.

On Monday, the 14 accused will be offered a final opportunity to address the court.

Verdicts will be announced on Wednesday evening.

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