Seven years after a controversial triple killing within the Pope's Swiss Guards, a Swiss court is to open a murder inquiry.
The move -- aimed at clearing the name of the officer held responsible, Cedric Tornay -- follows years of resistance by the Vatican to shed light on the shooting, on 4 May, 1998, of Swiss Guards commander Alois Estermann and his wife.
The Holy See has always insisted that the couple were killed by Tornay, who then turned the gun on himself, because he was bitter at having been passed over for a medal.
High-profile French lawyer Jacques Verges and his colleague, Luc Brossollet, acting for Tornay's mother, say that they will file the murder claim because "we have faced years of stubborn deafness from the Vatican. Cedric Tornay was Swiss, so it is proper to bring the case before a court in Switzerland."
The move comes amid a flurry of books on the killing, including Victor Guitard's L'Agent Secret du Vatican, an extensive interview with Giovanni Saluzzo, a friend and former colleague of Tornay. He claims that Estermann was murdered after Vatican officials discovered that he had been a spy for the East German Stasi secret police in the 1980s.
In another book, Garde Suisse Au Vatican, former Swiss Guard Stephane Sapin supports the Vatican's version that Tornay killed the couple in a fit of "premeditated madness" prompted by drugs and a tumor on his brain.
Tornay's mother, Muguette Baudat, turned to Verges -- who defended the Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie -- after unsuccessfully challenging the Vatican's version on her own.
Baudat, who believes Tornay's suicide note was a fake, says an independent autopsy in Lausanne established that a 7mm bullet killed her son -- not a 9.4mm caliber bullet from a Stig 75 shotgun, as claimed in the Vatican's investigation. She claims the autopsy suggests her 23-year-old son was drugged, then shot and his body positioned in Estermann's flat to suggest that he killed the couple before shooting himself. She says her letters to Pope John Paul II demanding a new investigation have gone unanswered.
Journalists who have covered the case are unconvinced by Guitard's theory, but many agree that the Vatican's short internal investigation raised more questions than it answered.
Estermann, who was 43 years old, had been appointed commander of the Swiss Guard just a few hours before his murder, after 18 distinguished years guarding Pope John Paul II.
Baudat points out that the Vatican judge who presided over the internal inquiry into the killings, Gianluigi Marrone, did not interview Swiss Guard members as part of his investigation. She also casts doubt on Tornay's suicide note, which states he killed Estermann because he had not received the Benemerenti medal he was in line for after more than three years at the Vatican.
Once Verges has filed the murder claim in Martigny, Switzerland, where Tornay is buried, a judge will set a date, probably before the summer, for a hearing.