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U.S. fugitive loses appeal, tries suicide

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CHAMPAGNE-MOUTON, France — Convicted killer Ira Einhorn lost what effectively was his last chance to avoid extradition to the United States, and later Thursday attempted suicide at his house in France, his lawyer said.

Einhorn's lawyer, Dominique Delthil, said Einhorn's life was not in danger.

"There are no serious problems," said Delthil, who at the time was in Einhorn's home in French wine-growing country near Bordeaux. "He tried to cut his throat with a knife. It was not very pretty."

A doctor arrived, followed moments later by an ambulance. Medics brought a stretcher inside the house, but Einhorn walked outside and climbed into the ambulance, which did not immediately leave the grounds.

His lawyer in Paris, Dominique Tricaud, said he'd spoken with Einhorn just after the ruling and that Einhorn said: "I'm doing it now. Bye."

The 61-year-old American fugitive, a former anti-war activist, had just lost his last appeal under French law of the extradition order that would return him to Pennsylvania, where he was convicted of the gruesome killing of his girlfriend more than two decades ago.

The decision by the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, means Einhorn could be arrested immediately. However, his lawyers have already appealed the case outside the French legal system, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

France has no legal obligation to halt the extradition for such an appeal, though it may decide to do so.

Outside Einhorn's home, an ivy-covered converted windmill near Bordeaux, a dozen riot police and a dozen plainclothes officers stood guard before the verdict. The shades were drawn and the lights were out.

A note pinned to Einhorn's locked gate asked reporters not to disturb him.

Einhorn fled the United States in 1981, soon before he was to stand trial in Pennsylvania for the 1977 bludgeoning death of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux. Her corpse was found stuffed in a trunk inside a closet of the Philadelphia apartment she shared with Einhorn.

In 1993, Einhorn was sentenced in absentia to life in prison. The United States made its initial request for extradition in 1997, after police tracked him to Champagne-Mouton.

Einhorn has denied killing Maddux, saying that the charges stemmed from a government conspiracy against him.

Her sister, Mary Maddux, reacted with relief to Thursday's ruling. "It's been 24 years," she said. "Hopefully this will be drawing 24 years of a chase to a close, at least to get Ira back here."

The case has taken many legal turns over the years. France does not extradite foreign nationals based on trials in absentia. It also refuses to extradite people to countries where they could face the death penalty.

But a 1998 Pennsylvania law provided for a retrial, and U.S. officials promised that Einhorn would not be eligible for the death penalty because capital punishment was not legal in Pennsylvania at the time of the crime.

Last October, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin refused to reconsider Einhorn's extradition, which he had approved three months earlier. Einhorn then filed his last-chance appeal with the Council of State, which is an administrative body that reviews cases for procedural problems. Its members are not judges.