Mélina Facchin with AFP 06:47, 05 June 2023, modified at 06:47, 05 June 2023

Nearly six months after the suicide of 13-year-old Lucas, four young college students will appear before the juvenile court of Epinal. The latter are prosecuted for school harassment. But the prosecutor's office finally cast doubt on the link between the harassment and the teen's suicide on April 3, contradicting its own conclusions.

The juvenile court of Epinal rules Monday on the possible guilt of four college students from Golbey (Vosges) prosecuted for school bullying that led to the suicide of Lucas, 13, a drama that had caused a national stir in January. At the hearing, which was held behind closed doors on 3 April, the prosecutor's office did not request recognition of harassment as a cause of suicide, contradicting its own conclusions at the end of the investigation.

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Some defendants were not yet 13 years old

"In view of the analysis of the file and what was said at the hearing, there remained a doubt about the causality" between the harassment and the desperate gesture of Lucas, had told AFP the prosecutor of Epinal, Frédéric Nahon. The qualification adopted by the judges could have important consequences for the possible sanctions imposed: the penalty for school harassment committed by a minor can be up to 18 months in prison, but it is increased to five years if these acts have led to suicide.

If the middle school students are found guilty, their sentences will only be pronounced in a second step, after a period of "probation", in accordance with the new Code of Criminal Justice for Minors in force since September 2021. The period used for the acts of harassment could also have an impact on the final decision of the judges: for some of the harassment facts in the file, some of the defendants were not yet 13 years old.

However, the law establishes a presumption of non-discernment according to which, under the age of 13, a minor is presumed not to be able to understand the consequences of his actions and therefore cannot be convicted of an offence. The lawyers of the four students, two girls and two boys, did not enter into these considerations. At the hearing, they had considered the offence "unconstituted" and had all pleaded for acquittal.

Homophobic slurs

Lucas, 13, committed suicide on January 7, after writing a note expressing his desire to end his life. "The findings and the autopsy carried out by the forensic institute of Nancy have established the thesis of a suicide by hanging," said prosecutor Frédéric Nahon. The relatives of the teenager had denounced acts of harassment, revealing the mockery and insults of a homophobic nature of which he had said he was victim from other students of his school.

This suicide had aroused strong emotion. In Épinal in early February, several hundred people had participated in a white march in memory of the young boy. "When a child ends his life, there are no words to express emotion, sorrow, pain," National Education Minister Pap Ndiaye told the Senate. "This tragedy shows how the fight against bullying must remain a priority for the government."

At the end of May, four other minors were indicted for "school bullying leading to suicide" after a 13-year-old girl, Lindsay, killed herself on May 12 in Vendin-le-Vieil (Pas-de-Calais).