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The Sunday Times
January 17, 2010
John Follain in Paris
Confidential case files reveal how Jessica Davies, the niece of a Labour minister, used sex and alcohol to dull the pain of an unhappy childhood. They also give clues about why this destructive path ended in her killing a man she picked up in a bar
On November 10, 2007, Olivier Mugnier walked into O’Sullivan’s, an Irish pub in the prosperous Parisian suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
It was a Saturday night and the bar’s long, communal tables were busy, with customers watching football or rugby on television. Others sat in the pub’s “snugs” or played billiards. The Guinness, naturally, was flowing.
Mugnier, a 24-year-old unemployed graduate, must have thought his luck was in when he fell into conversation with an attractive brunette with striking blue eyes.
Jessica Davies, a 28-year-old daughter of a English father and French mother, had a model’s looks and one can imagine what Mugnier must have thought when she began cracking dirty jokes.
The two downed pint after pint, interspersed with the odd shot of spirits. As the conversation became more and more suggestive, Davies complained that she had not had sex for some time and asked Mugnier to come home with her. Did he have condoms, she asked. He followed her home, wearing his rollerskates.
Back at her flat, she opened a bottle of wine with a kitchen knife and the pair tried to have sex. It was a disappointment.
“He was too drunk to go through with it, he went too fast and I reassured him,” said Davies. “I told him ‘Calm down’. I think he took off the condom. Then I completely blanked out, I don’t remember.”
When she came to, at half-past midnight, Davies found herself in a nightmarish scene. She was holding her mobile phone with one hand as she called the emergency services; the other hand was pressed to a deep stab wound to Mugnier’s chest. His blood was everywhere.
Naked save for a green and white bathrobe, both hands bloody, she was still pressing on his chest when the police arrived. Barely able to stand through drunkenness tests showed she was four times over the French drink-driving limit Davies cried: “I did that to him, I’m a monster. I just wanted to cut him a bit, the knife went in on its own.”
Police found a knife with a 6in blade on the bed. Davies told them she had used it to stab Mugnier; one of two knife wounds went right through his body and touched his spine. He died an hour later.
Last week, a court in nearby Versailles found Davies, the niece of Quentin Davies, the junior defence minister who recently acquired notoriety for claiming more than £20,000 in expenses for his bell tower, guilty of voluntary homicide without premeditation and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. A lawyer for the victim’s family called her “a sulphurous seductress, with the devil’s beauty”.
The psychologists who interviewed her while she was in custody were impressed with Davies’s intelligence, her articulate analysis of her situation and, with one notable exception, the precision of her memory. At the same time, they were struck by the coldness she exhibited when recalling traumatic events.
As Davies decides whether to appeal her conviction, confidential case files seen by The Sunday Times can throw more light on the puzzling story of how an intelligent and privileged young woman became a savage murderess.
TheF family link to Quentin Davies was one of the few things Davies was proud of, according to her friends.
Her friend Lubomira Ratzov recalled this weekend that Davies would say of her uncle, who has served in parliament for 20 years, first as a Tory and now for Labour: “We write to each other. He’s someone I admire, for his success, his humanism, his convictions. We discussed the French revolution. He’s very cultured.”
Otherwise she was anything but impressed with her family. Born in Camden, north London, in February 1979 to a British banker and a French teacher, she lived there for only nine months before the family moved to Paris.
Her father Richard came from a wealthy family. Davies said that he was “a bit hysterical. He made a big deal out of tiny things but kept serious things to himself”. His adultery made her think he was “pathetic and a coward” and “the worst of husbands”.
She was no less dismissive of her mother, Monique: “In my mother’s place, I wouldn’t have forgiven him. I told her my father took her for a sex machine … I thought my mother a whore and my father a bastard.”
The family kept moving through her childhood. Psychologists said this rootless existence only added to her emotional turmoil.
Davies had lived in Chantilly, north of Paris, then in Germany for four years, back to Chantilly and then to Paris. Bilingual in English and French, she also spoke German.
Most of all she wanted her parents to make a clear choice and divorce. When she was 14 they finally separated, her father settling in Turin with a girlfriend. Her mother, now a professor of modern literature in central France, also started a new relationship. “I was delighted, that’s all I was waiting for,” Davies said.
Two years after the separation, however, several traumatic events marked Davies: the death of her first love at the age of 18, and a failed suicide attempt by her maternal grandmother, who lived with Davies and her younger brother.
“She threw herself from a bridge as we were leaving on holiday,” Davies said of her grandmother, before adding coldly: “You have to be a moron to miss yourself like that, she should have jumped head first.” With another uncle who suffered from schizophrenia and once tried to kill his mother, Davies was tormented by doubts about her own mental health from a young age. “I think about it all the time. When I was small I was kleptomaniac, and as an adolescent I was mythomaniac,” she said.
At school she was a good student until she “discovered boys” and started to play truant, smoking and drinking from the age of 13 onwards. At 15, she fell into an alcoholinduced coma.
“I was told I drank like a man. I was proud,” she said. “I felt powerful. I could be in a bubble and eliminate the outside world, and not face it.”
Her parents also declined to confront problems, failing to talk to her about her suicidal grandmother and her drinking, according to Daniel Soulez-Larivière, Davies’s lawyer.
“It was a very English mentality,” he said. “It’s good manners to brush problems under the carpet rather than talk about them, and in Jessica’s family there was a lot of that. Which is fine for some kinds of personalities but bad for others, like Jessica’s. It leads to depression.”
By her own account, Davies was 17 when she had sex for the first time. She then had an 18-month relationship with a boyfriend nine years older than her. “He’d take me out to dinner, I discovered Parisian life, he was like a mentor,” she said.
She drank heavily from the age of 20, and throughout that year was addicted to cocaine, a habit she managed to stop.
She scraped through school and a literature degree at university “I was drunk six days out of seven” and dreamt of becoming a model. This failed to materialise and for a time she lived on an allowance of €1,500 a month from her father. She did manage to hold down a job as a barmaid and another, from 2006, for an insurance company. “I was very competent when I turned up,” she said.
Amid this increasingly chaotic existence, unsurprisingly she had many “mates” but few friends. “I got on with men but very badly with women. I became paranoid, I thought they blamed me for everything,” she said.
After ending another two-year relationship in 2002, she had an eight-month relationship then “one-night stands for pleasure and to fill a void. I’m sentimental and emotional so if I don’t have any friends there must be a void. Sexuality compensates the emotional void a bit”. She said she had slept with more than 100 men.
In 2005 she met Laurent Couturier, 37, but their relationship was marred by frequent rows. He told investigators that she would abruptly walk out of the flat during arguments, during which she would slap or kick him “but never violence to hurt, just to defend herself and to be able to leave,” he said.
The fraught relationship helped to push her into a suicide attempt in July 2007, sick of “a pathetic life, a pathetic job”. She had previously tried to kill herself in 2004.
Davies described a loss of memory similar to the one she was to suffer during the murder: “I was at home, I’d run a bath. Then I blacked out, and afterwards I found my arms and thighs slashed.”
Couturier had let himself into her flat because he was worried he had not heard from her for a while. There he found a suicide note addressed to her mother. “Then I went into the bathroom,” he recalled. “There was blood everywhere, the bath was full of blood-coloured water. I thought she was dead but she was in hospital.”
She had used the kitchen knife she was to use again four months later.
Davies and Couturier separated, but kept seeing each other and met for dinner on October 31, just over a week before the murder. They drank some wine.
“I was on my guard but everything was fine,” Couturier told investigators. “When Jessica drank, she had no limits any more. She could drink very large amounts, much more than I could … in that period she knew she shouldn’t drink any more alcohol because of the medical treatment she was under.”
That evening Davies had suddenly became angry and they had yet another violent row: she punched Couturier and he pushed her back, sending her falling down the stairs. She then walked out into the street.
“She came back at about 2am,” he said. “She was happy as she always was when she came back. We made love and we watched TV.”
That night, Davies recalled: “I told him that if I had an adventure it would be over between us. I wanted both that he leave and that he stay. I didn’t really know what I wanted. He’d become too dependent and so had I.”
The “adventure” was the man who became her victim 11 days later, Olivier Mugnier.
QUITE what provoked that final explosion of murderous intent remains a mystery. While Davies’s emotional problems and propensity for violent outbursts were apparent to all, there were few signs that she could turn into a murderer.
Indeed, Ratsov said of her friend: “I thought they would tell me she had killed herself, not someone else. She has an inner anger that she takes out on herself, not others.”
To police, Davies mentioned the stabbing to death a few days earlier of Meredith Kercher, the British exchange student, in Perugia, Italy, but investigators ruled out a copycat killing.
In her talks with psychologists, Davies agonised over the reasons for her crime. Perhaps it was a suicidal gesture, she speculated, or perhaps there was a rape or she felt disgusted by the victim. Perhaps Mugnier’s sexual failure plunged her into a turmoil of fear and hatred.
Shortly after the murder, she tearfully told a psychiatrist: “I remember scenes as if I see them from a distance. I remember the moment the knife went into the flesh without resistance and I’m surprised by it, and once I see the blood I wake up, panicked.”
Looking back to her relationship with Couturier, she also said the one-night stand with Mugnier “was for me an opportunity to take a step away from Laurent”.
“But no explanation satisfies her,” one psychologist noted. Davies’s only certainty was that her drunken state had affected her behaviour.
At her trial, Davies’s use of antidepressants such as Effexor was raised. Some users report that they have engaged in outbursts of extreme violence when drinking alcohol while taking the drug. However, this was discounted as a factor by the court.
Florence Daudy, a psychologist appointed by the prosecutor to examine Davies in April 2008, was struck by her coldness. “She shows no emotional participation, even when she is talking about painful subjects; there are no tears, no change of tone, no hesitation,” Daudy wrote in her report.
Nevertheless, for Daudy, Davies’s amnesia appeared to be genuine, as did her search for a meaning to the murder.
In court, Davies’s lawyer Soulez-Larivière described the murder as “a form of suicide”.
The 15-year sentence, combined with 10 years of probation and psychological monitoring, left Davies “shocked and shattered”, according to Soulez-Larivière, but she had recovered enough a couple of days later to be able to discuss with him whether to appeal she has to decide by Friday.
Davies herself said she thought a great deal about Mugnier. “To say I hate myself isn’t strong enough,” she said. “I’d like to apologise to Olivier’s family, I feel so pathetic … I spend my time trying to remember, I want to remember for the family and for justice but also for me.”