French trial over hit-and-run death suspended after lawyer attacked

Francoise Cotta (left), lawyer of the driver Eric Robic, and Regis Meliodon, lawyer of the passenger Claude Khayet, arrive for the start of the trial at the Paris courthouse on Nov 27, 2014. The trial was suspended on Thursday after Meliodon&nbs
Francoise Cotta (left), lawyer of the driver Eric Robic, and Regis Meliodon, lawyer of the passenger Claude Khayet, arrive for the start of the trial at the Paris courthouse on Nov 27, 2014. The trial was suspended on Thursday after Meliodon was attacked in the court's toilets. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - The trial of two French nationals who hit and killed an Israeli woman while driving an SUV in Tel Aviv in 2011 then fled to France to avoid prosecution was suspended on Thursday after one of their lawyers was attacked in the court's toilets.

The death of Lee Zeitouni, 25, who was crossing a street in a pedestrian zone in September 2011 when she was hit by the speeding SUV, has enflamed public opinion in Israel.

The incident spurred a diplomatic row between Israel and France, which would not extradite the two men to face trial in Israel because France does not extradite its nationals.

The driver, Eric Robic, 40, who had left a nightclub just before the incident, is being tried on charges of aggravated involuntary homicide and non-assistance to a person in need.

He risks 10 years in prison and a €150,000 (S$243,000) fine.

"I was a coward," Robic told the court.

The passenger, Claude Khayat, 35, is charged with non-assistance to a person in need.

He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.

The criminal trial was suspended until Wednesday after Khayat's lawyer, Regis Meliodon, was struck in the face in the court's toilets.

The two men boarded a flight to France a few hours after hitting Zeitouni.

They have acknowledged the facts but deny going through a red light.

Robic and Khayat are currently in jail pending a separate French investigation into organised fraud and money-laundering.

Robic was convicted in April in another fraud case and has six other convictions on his record, including for driving under the influence.

Zeitouni's parents, who were in court, did not speak to reporters.

Before the proceedings, their lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel said Robic was not a reliable witness.

"His credibility when it comes to the sincerity of his excuses is very low," he said.