The trial of a Greek helicopter pilot accused of strangling his British wife as she slept next to their baby daughter is due to begin on Friday in Athens.
Nearly a year after Caroline Crouch was found dead in the couple’s maisonette, her husband, who had originally attempted to pin the murder on ruthless “foreign thieves”, will appear before a mixed jury court in the Greek capital. It will be the first time that Babis Anagnostopoulos, 33, has been seen in public since his alleged confession to a crime that has gripped the nation.
“We have been waiting for this moment,” the Crouch family’s lawyer Thanassis Haramanis told the Guardian. “We are confident that justice will prevail.”
In a trial that is likely to be as dramatic as it is long, the UK-trained aviator could take the stand within hours of the hearing getting under way.
Before proceedings officially begin precedents have been set: for the first time in Greek legal history the defendant, who stands accused of premeditated murder and attempting to pervert the course of justice by lying to police, also faces the charge of killing an animal under groundbreaking legislation passed last year. The pilot allegedly admitted using a leash to hang Crouch’s seven-month-old puppy, Roxy, from the banister of the couple’s home in suburban Athens to make the break-in seem more realistic. Investigators encountered the choked pet before finding Caroline’s body next to Lydia, her daughter, on the upper level of the maisonette.
“He will do everything to reduce his sentence and convince the court that Caroline’s death wasn’t pre-meditated,” Haramanis said. “But he also faces the prospect of 10 years or more in prison for killing Caroline’s puppy.”
A stray adopted only months before the 11 May murder, Roxy has been assigned its own legal representation paid for by an animal welfare group that has urged members to protest outside the court alongside women’s organisations enraged at the killing – one of 17 femicides in Greece last year.
For 37 days Anagnostopoulos claimed his wife’s death was the result of a botched burglary, during which time he gave a heart-rending eulogy at her funeral on the island of Alonissos where 20-year-old Crouch was raised.
It was only after eight hours of police questioning – following his arrest at her memorial – that investigators allege he confessed to the crime. Police who had encouraged the government to take the rare step of announcing a €300,000 (£250,000) bounty for information that might lead to the assailants, said they had been fooled by a man they described as a “top-class actor”.
Anagnostopoulos, who is detained in Athens’ high-security Koyrdallos prison, has claimed, through his lawyers, that his wife’s “narcissistic and aggressive behaviour” were to blame for the fit of rage that prompted him to commit the crime.
But in a 24-page report, Giorgos Noulis, the public prosecutor assigned to the case, contended otherwise, saying the pilot was in a “calm state of mind” when he chose to kill the student. “He had no inhibition to go through with the act despite the fact that she was the mother of his child,” the magistrate was quoted as saying in the report excerpts of which appeared in the Greek press. “The victim was just 20 years old while he was 13 years older and should have been her protector.”
The daughter of a retired oil executive who settled on Alonissos, Crouch had been asleep for more than two hours prior to her murder. Investigators, piecing together the sequence of events based on a handwritten diary that spoke of an increasingly abusive relationship, believe she threatened the pilot with divorce during a heated altercation earlier that night. Her death was depicted as “agonising” by a coroner who estimated after examination of her body that asphyxiation “took five to six minutes”.
Greek media reports describe Anagnostopoulos as having spent months poring over legal textbooks in a bid to finesse his defence. At least four witnesses from the couple’s “broader social circle” will testify in his defence, his lawyer Alexandros Papaioannidis said ahead of the trial.
Haramanis, the Crouch family lawyer, said it was unclear if Caroline Crouch’s parents, who now have custody of Lydia, would attend proceedings. “Her mother can still not believe that she was consoled by the man who took her beloved daughter away,” he said. “I don’t know if they could bear to be in the same room with him.”