Maurice Papon was chief of the police on October 17, 1961 when, after a peaceful march organized by the Algerian National Liberation Front, a large number of Algerian civilians were killed in Paris by French police. The exact number of the dead remains unknown but most historians agree on 200 deaths.
Little by little evidences of his reponsibilty in the Holocaust emerged. His trial began in 1997 after 17 years of bitter legal wrangling. He was convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity in 1998, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The trial was the longest in French history. It had a different meaning for French people; for some, it was considered to be the last chance to confront their collaborationist history in a court room. By his arrogance, his contempt, his refusal to express regrets or remorse during and since its lawsuit, Maurice Papon crystallized heinous feelings of many, well beyond the victims.
Papon was found guilty of ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,560 Jews, including children and the elderly, between 1942 and 1944. Most of these people were sent to Auschwitz. Under the Vichy collaborationist regime, he was the number two official in the Bordeaux region and supervisor of its Service for Jewish Questions.
One of the main issues of the trial was to determine to what extent an individual should be held responsible in a chain of responsibility. The prosecution recommended that Papon be given a 20-year prison term, although life imprisonment is usually the norm for such crimes.
Maurice Papon was finally put in jail in October 22, 1999. He was released from jail "La Santé" on September 18, 2002, only 3 years later. The highly criticised release was issued on the grounds of health and age. This was made possible thanks to a new French law saying inmates could be released if suffering from a fatal illness or if long-term health could be endangered by incarceration. Papon was the second Frenchman to benefit from that new law (March 4, 2002 law), while 27 French octogenarians were imprisoned in 2001.