GRENOBLE, FRANCE (AFP) - A former French soldier was sentenced to life in prison on Friday (Feb 18) for abducting and murdering an eight-year-old girl in a case that horrified the country.
Nordahl Lelandais, 39, had confessed to killing Maelys De Araujo who disappeared in August 2017 from a wedding near the Alpine town of Chambery, eastern France.
Police searched for months for the girl before arresting Lelandais, who was also a guest at the wedding.
After initially denying the claims, Lelandais finally led them to her remains in February 2018 after traces of her blood were found in his car. He has since insisted Maelys's death was accidental.
His trial for the killing came only months after he had been jailed for another murder, that of a fellow soldier he beat to death.
The prosecutor in the Maelys case, Jacques Dallest, said Lelandais was "a complete danger to society" as he called for the maximum sentence against him.
The judge said Lelandais would have to serve at least 22 years before becoming eligible for release under French sentencing rules.
Shortly before the court heard final statements, Lelandais told Maelys's family that he was sorry.
"I know that the families will never accept my apologies but I feel I must offer them with the greatest sincerity," he said.
Lelandais showed little reaction as the verdict was read.
Lelandais is already serving a 20-year prison sentence, handed down in May 2021, for the killing of Corporal Arthur Noyer, 23, in the early hours of April 12, 2017.
He had picked Noyer up as he hitchhiked after leaving a nightclub in Chambery.
Lelandais claimed that death, too, was accidental, telling police that Noyer had struck him in a parking lot where they had stopped, prompting a fight that ended when Noyer was knocked out.
He then put Noyer's body in the boot of his car before dumping it on the side of a road.
The killings raised fears that Lelandais might have had a hand in dozens of other unsolved disappearances in the region, and prosecutors reopened several cases after reviewing his background and movements over several years.
But so far, investigators have found no evidence he was involved in other crimes.