French exhaustion postpones trial

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A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) postponed the trial of Norwegian man Joshua French on Friday, because French is too exhausted for the case to continue. The judges decided to delay the case until January 21, after French told the court he was tired and under a great deal of stress.

Joshua French spoke little during Friday's hearing, but told the court he was exhausted and burned out. The judges postponed the case for a second time, pending a medical report. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/NRK screen grab

Joshua French spoke little during Friday’s hearing, but told the court he was exhausted and burned out. The judges postponed the case for a second time, pending a medical report. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/NRK screen grab

French spoke very little during the trial. His Congolese lawyer sought leave to wait for the results of medical testing French had undergone in hospital on Wednesday, which were not ready by Friday morning. The judges asked French directly if he was well enough to take questions, and French replied that he’d prefer his lawyer to answer for him. The proceedings were transmitted live by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

The judges postponed the trial on the grounds they wanted French to answer for himself, rather than having his lawyer speak for him. It was ordered a Norwegian doctor should examine French, and deliver a report on the state of his health to the court.

Health controversy
Debate over French’s health went on all morning, after heavy rain delayed proceedings by an hour. French’s Norwegian lawyer Hans Marius Graasvold said the accused man was only coming to court to request an extension, because he wasn’t able to proceed with the trial. His mother Kari Hilde French, Graasvold and Norwegian criminal investigators, forensic scientists and foreign ministry representatives were all in the makeshift courthouse at Ndolo prison in the DRC capital Kinshasa. Special envoy Kai Eide arrived after spending the morning in a separate meeting concerning French.

The DRC prosecutor Katenda Nkulu was concerned the trial would drag on for too long, and argued French wasn’t really sick. “At these latitudes, sweating is not necessarily a sign of a serious illness,” he said. “How many times should this matter be postponed?” NRK reported French told the court “I want to clarify. I’m not sick, but I’m exhausted and burned out.” Nkulu countered that being tired isn’t being sick. “You can get a chair,” he argued.

Judge Serge Kabondo decided the court could not judge a defendant too unwell to stand trial, and the proceedings will continue when he is healthy. “It can take three days, a week or six months,” he said, reported NRK. “We don’t set sick people before the court. The doctor treating him must pronounce him healthy before the judicial process can start again.

French is on trial for murdering his friend, fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland in August last year. The pair had been sentenced to death for killing their driver in 2009, a charge they both denied. DRC authorities alleged French drugged and strangled Moland, after initially deeming the death was a suicide. The trial began on Tuesday but was postponed until Friday because the interpreter wasn’t up to task,

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate