VESOUL: A French court on Monday opened the appeal trial for a Chilean man who was sentenced to 28 years in prison last year for murdering his Japanese ex-girlfriend, Narumi Kurosaki.

The trial opened shortly after 9:00 am (0800 GMT) in the town of Vesoul in eastern France.

Nicolas Zepeda spoke French to judge Francois Arnaud, who told him he could choose the language in which he wished to express himself.

“I understand. Thank you”, Zepeda replied in front of a packed courtroom, which included the victim’s mother and two sisters.

The hearing had to be suspended, however, due to the absence of a juror.

Zepeda was sentenced in April last year to 28 years in jail for the murder of Kurosaki, then aged 21, in December 2016. Her body was never found.

He has insisted he is innocent.

In February, the appeal was delayed after the defendant’s lawyer was changed at the last moment.

Sylvie Galley, who represents Kurosaki’s family, told reporters: “If the family is here today, it’s for one and only one reason -- to honour Narumi’s memory”.

“The family has come without any hope of revelation, confession or truth from Nicolas Zepeda,“ she added.

- Strange messages -

The defendant’s father, Humberto Zepeda, said he wanted to see his son exonerated at the end of the “new trial”.

“No-one can say with certainty today that Narumi is dead,“ he said. “This is the 21st century. A country as developed as France cannot sentence a person to 28 years on the basis of a hypothesis. It’s not possible.”

Kurosaki, a brilliant scholarship student, arrived in the eastern French city of Besancon that summer to learn French. She disappeared on December 4.

Zepeda, with whom she had broken up a year earlier, was the last person to see her alive.

The Chilean has admitted spending the night with Kurosaki in December, claiming he ran into her by chance.

Several witnesses reported hearing “screams of terror”, although none called the police at the time.

Some of Kurosaki’s friends received strange messages in the following days from her social networking accounts, which police believe were sent by Zepeda.

He was extradited from Chile to France in 2020.

Renaud Portejoie, a lawyer for Zepeda, expressed hope the new trial would help “change the situation”.

Zepeda has learned French in prison, which could help him express himself better in court. -AFP

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