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With a warm handshake and an easy smile, Daniel Zagury likes to “glimpse a little corner of blue sky in the darkest situations”. / Vassili Feodoroff/Hans Lucas for The Cross

At almost 66 years old, the psychiatrist, expert in serial killers, is still passionate about his profession, has book projects and worries about what he will transmit.

Daniel Zagury, the general public knows the cap of expert psychiatrist. In assize trials, it is his word that the court awaits, suddenly more attentive. Serial killers worry and Daniel Zagury not only meets them, but above all reveals them. On the CV of the expert, names that freeze: Guy Georges, Patrice Alègre, Michel Fourniret and, more recently, jihadists and terrorists.

In his small daily office, in his "jar", Daniel Zagury receives as a simple psychiatrist. Or rather as head of the "ordinary" department of the psychiatric center of Bois-de-Bondy, in Seine-Saint-Denis. We imagined him solemn and serious in the image of his subject, but behind his mustache that he has worn since medical school, the man has a warm handshake and an easy smile. "I like to glimpse a little patch of blue sky in the darkest situations", he explains straight away.

In Bondy, he hardly takes any more patients, except one or two, whom he has been following for more than fifteen years. "Basically, I supervise", he summarizes with a jaded pout. The man does not have the managerial fiber: two years from retirement, it is the patients, always, who fascinate him. “I like the clinic, I like human relationships, understanding the springs. I like the relationship, the meeting. I like the idea of ​​easing the pain a little. Not to consecrate the cut between one and the other. »

The ordinary side of "poor guys"

This is also what led him, as a young doctor, to push the doors of prisons and palaces (of justice), to meet those whom ordinary mortals consider to be "monsters". Daniel Zagury willingly uses the word, the better to contradict it: “Serial killers, rapists, genocidaires are not monsters. Faced with their appalling acts, the first instinct is to think that they are, in a form of adequacy between the act and the person. But clinical work is, precisely, an exercise in demonstration. »

He insists on the ordinary side of these “poor guys, these failures of existence, these poor wretches”. Not to minimize their actions, but to take them at their true height: “We tend to heroize these killers negatively. It's dangerous because we then reinforce them in their fantasy of omnipotence. »

> To (re)read: Thierry Tilly and "the flaws" of the Védrines family

Understanding those who are only men, he says in reference to Primo Levi, fascinates the specialist. Pass it on to the general public too. Before the assize courts, he appreciates "to be at the interface between society and the clinic, far from the jargon of psychologists".

Daniel Zagury, the big shot, is not a snob: "When I listen to France Culture, I get a little bored", he smiled, pleased with his effect. At "mixing of concepts", he prefers “the pedagogy of complexity” : “True aesthetic enjoyment is the adequacy of a description, of a theorization with an individual. It is to say to oneself: “I have translated my thought exactly. I understood something and I passed it on.” »

be able to transmit

A transmission requirement that he also applies with his family. Father of three children, he is delighted that they have received "the love of their mother, a kind of unconditional love, and the passion of their father", each going their own way.

The eldest, Victor, became a lawyer, “the poor guy, stuck between his expert father and his magistrate mother”, he observes. The youngest, Nelly, creates jewelry in New York. Between the two, Alice chose entrepreneurship. “Type her name in Google, you will see, she has more pages than me! », he exclaims proudly.

His wife, “early retirement” of the judiciary, works at the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS), which works to repair the spoliation of the Jews of France during the Occupation. He married her civilly nearly forty years ago. For man has no faith, "not religious in any case", he specifies, evoking a form of belief in man.

A pied-noir Jew who returned from Morocco around the age of 10, he retains of this identity what it “colors with his personality” : “I don't constantly promote my Jewishness, but I don't shy away from it. Being Jewish, in a line of history, culture, love, stubbornness in surpassing oneself and the requirement of transmission has always been obvious to me. untangles the psychiatrist.

From a conference to a vocation

Schooled at the very chic and renowned Lakanal college, near Paris, the child from the middle classes took the best there, taking full advantage of his studies. His vocation as a doctor was born at the end of college, during a conference by Jean Rostand, the “frog biologist” : " It was passionate. He had such charisma. he recalls.

Could he have gone another way? " Nope ", he replies tit for tat, before pulling himself together, his self-esteem inflated: “I was good at literature, I read Freud at 15. I was good everywhere in fact, but maybe not enough for Polytechnique or Normale sup'. » He could also have become an actor, he confides, assuming “his big mouth side”, but did not have “the courage of an uncertain trade”.

As a medical student, it was the fear of death that directed him to psychiatry. “I was not very comfortable with the body”, he explains. Because death, obviously, the expert rubs shoulders with it regularly and in its most violent form. "It's a complicated chapter in my life, he acknowledges. But criminal expertise is the most exciting. They confront usto the most absolutely incredible things, parricide, matricide, denial of pregnancy. »

He intends to devote a book to it soon to question what the philosopher Hannah Arendt has so well defined as the "banality of evil" : “How can people who look like us, neither sick, nor delinquents, nor psychopaths commit the most abominable crimes? », does he become animated before noticing: “I haven't written all the books I have in my stomach yet. »

The workaholic expert

So, even if he complains a bit about being "locked in the yoke of an expert serial killer", even if he also assures not to go to prison "only on Saturday morning, very exceptionally during the week", his judicial activity overwhelms him, as it invades his little office. The ordinary psychiatric journals and the posters of his conferences, drawn by his wife, struggle to compete with the bags of seals strewn on the ground, the letters of the magistrates covering the table.

“If I don't have my good expertise per week, I get depressed! », he exclaims. He even confides living a “a little painful weaning”, since he went on strike a few months ago to protest against the poor remuneration of legal experts. To meet a defendant, often in prison, analyze him and write an expert report, the experts are paid €277, regardless of the time they spend there. This system "encourages vice and mediocrity at the expense of virtue, it breaks my heart", he blurts out without smiling.

> To (re)read: The discreet strike of expert psychiatrists

Of his career, Daniel Zagury nevertheless regrets nothing, " nothing at all ", he underlines, raising his finger, before specifying: “There was a time when we made fun of the experts. Not a trial took place without their work being shouted down. There had been Foucault's criticism, May 68, antipsychiatry. I was, myself, of this generation which tried to reconcile clinical rigour, psychoanalysis and deepening of the great questions. I am very happy to have participated in this. » His expert cap, finally, does not suit him so badly.


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26 1950 June. Born in Courbevoie (Hauts-de-Seine), then childhood in Morocco.

Around 1960. Return to France.

1968. Beginning of medical studies.

1977. Marriage to Sophie Ladreit de Lacharrière.

1997. Head of department at the Bois-de-Bondy psychiatric center (Seine-Saint-Denis)

2001. Deposition at the trial of Guy Georges, convicted of seven murders.

2002. Testimony at the trial of Patrice Alègre, convicted of five murders, an attempt
of murder and six rapes.

2008. Testimony at the trial of Michel Fourniret, condemned for five murders and two assassinations, in Belgium and in France.

2013. Testified at the trial of Mathieu Moulinas, convicted of raping and killing Agnès Marin, intern at the Cévenol college in Chambon-sur-Lignon (Haute-Loire).

Flora Thomasset

Source: ©  Daniel Zagury, passion for psychology – La Croix

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