- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

DUBLIN (AP) - It remains one of Ireland’s great unsolved murders. But now, 14 years on, France may be about to get to the bottom of it.

Irish authorities on Friday agreed to extradite Ian Bailey, the only suspect ever identified in the murder of French filmmaker Sophie Toscan du Plantier, to France _ a legal first for Ireland. Never before has an Irish resident faced extradition abroad to face charges for a crime committed in Ireland.

High Court Justice Micheal Peart gave Bailey’s lawyers until Tuesday to decide whether to seek an appeal to the Irish Supreme Court.

Bailey, 53, an English freelance journalist who resettled in rural County Cork in 1991, denies beating to death Toscan du Plantier, 39, outside her Cork holiday home on the night of Dec. 22-23, 1996. He has previously been arrested twice on suspicion of her murder, but never charged.

France opened its own investigation after Ireland’s state prosecutors decided that, despite a 2,000-page police file, they lacked sufficient forensic and witness evidence to charge Bailey. France issued an extradition warrant for Bailey in February 2010.

Most legal experts had expected Ireland to reject the warrant, given its unusual nature and Ireland’s track record for refusing most extradition requests.

In his 54-page judgment Peart said Bailey faced no risk of an unfair trial in France.

The judge rejected a central argument of Bailey’s lawyers that it would be illegal under Irish law for anybody to be extradited overseas simply to face questioning, rather than a criminal charge.

Peart said the extradition warrant clearly seeks Bailey for prosecution, not questioning. “It is nowhere stated that its purpose is simply for the investigation of the offense,” he said.

All sides have conceded that the case against Bailey is largely circumstantial. He sported cuts on his face and hands the day after the killing that he attributed to plucking a turkey and putting up a Christmas tree. Several witnesses also claimed he had confessed to the murder, but Bailey contended that he had been joking or play-acting.

The French victim was married to French film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier _ the producer of Italian director Federico Fellini’s “City of Women” _ but bought a holiday home near the Cork tourist town of Schull that she used on her own. She had traveled to Cork alone only two days before her death to work on a new film idea. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2003.

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