Amiens (France) (AFP) - The suspect for the rape and murder of a young woman in northern France almost two decades ago was slowly emerging from a coma while under guard in hospital Saturday after he swallowed pesticide in an apparent suicide bid following his conviction.
Willy Bardon, on trial over the murder of Elodie Kulik in 2002 in a case that has attracted strong interest in France for years, ingested the substance at the courthouse in the northern city of Amiens late on Friday.
He is "progressively emerging from a coma" but is still in critical condition, prosecutor Alexandre de Bosschere told AFP.
"The product ingested... is a pesticide called Temik. It's an extremely dangerous product... which affects the nervous and cardio-vascular systems," he said.
Bardon, 45, is under round-the-clock police surveillance in hospital.
He had been sentenced to 30 years jail for kidnapping and holding a person against their will followed by death but was however acquitted of murder.
The prosecutor said Bardon had swallowed a pesticide in the seconds after the verdict was announced at court in Amiens at the climax of a 13-day trial.
"We do not know how he managed to hide that," said de Bosschere, adding that the defendant would have been searched before entering the court.
- 'Suicide attempt' -
Bank employee Elodie Kulik, 24, was kidnapped, raped, strangled and her corpse then burned in January 2002 in Tertry, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Saint-Quentin in the Aisne region.
Before dying, she managed to call emergency services and the harrowing 26-second recording was the key piece of evidence in the trial.
Another suspect Gregory Wiart, whose DNA was found at the scene, died in 2003. But six witnesses told the court they recognised the voice of Willy Bardon on the tape.
DNA testing advances had allowed new evidence to be gathered years after the event, leading police to identify Wiart.
Throughout the trial, Bardon insisted he was innocent, even protesting to the parents of Kulik that he had not been at the scene.
"It is clear that Mr Bardon tried to kill himself. He had said repeatedly that he could not bear going back to prison," his lawyer Stephane Daquo told AFP, adding that the defence would appeal a conviction that he claimed was based "on a simple impression".
Daquo said there were several holes in the investigation.
The victim's father Jacky Kulik expressed relief at the verdict while regretting Bardon's apparent suicide attempt.
"I can go to her grave tomorrow and say that I did my job," Kulik said.