France's 'Black Widow' denies murder as trial opens
A former driving instructor dubbed the "Black Widow" of the French Alps on Monday denied drugging her husband and then burning him to death in his car.
"I continue to say that I am innocent of what I have been accused and that will be shown in court," Manuela Gonzalez, 53, said on the opening day of her trial for murder.
The charred remains of Gonzalez's late husband, Daniel Cano, 58, were discovered in his burnt-out car near the house he shared with her in Villard-Bonnot in the Isere region of the Alps.
Police believe the fire was started deliberately and that Cano had taken a large dose of sleeping pills.
The case has attracted interest because of the similarities between the manner of metal worker Cano's demise, the death of two of Gonzalez's previous partners and two other incidents in which her lovers narrowly escaped death.
It emerged after Cano's death in 2008 that Gonzalez had, without consulting her husband, re-mortgaged their house for 165,000 euros ($229,000), and that both husband and wife were regular gamblers.
As investigators looked into Gonzalez's past, they discovered that four of her previous partners had been poisoned in suspicious circumstances, two of whom died.
In 1983, her then husband spent three months in hospital having absorbed large quantities of anti-depressants.
A year later, a jeweller with whom she had begun a relationship was hospitalised after drinking tea she had laced with morphine derivatives as part of a plot to persuade him to write her a cheque for the equivalent of 12,000 euros. That episode resulted in a conviction and a two-year prison sentence.
In April 1989, another lover died in his garage as a result of what was declared a suicide caused by asphyxiation from exhaust fumes from his car.
Another partner died in 1991 as a result of fumes caused by a fire at a flat they shared. Gonzalez was accused of causing the death but the charges were dropped three years later.
Lawyers for Cano's family say the past incidents reflect a pattern of murderous behaviour while advocates for Gonzalez are expected to argue they have all been dealt with by the authorities and should not be considered relevant to this case.
The trial is also expected to focus on whether Gonzalez, who is of Spanish heritage, suffered from a split personality and whether financial problems related to her gambling may have been a motive for her alleged murder.
A verdict is expected on Friday.