Part II: An American On Trial

Is Ted Maher Guilty Of Arson?

Three days before Ted Maher is scheduled to go on trial in Monaco, American lawyer Michael Griffith volunteered to assist with his defense.

He has planned the following defense for Ted Maher: While Ted did set the fire, he never intended to harm anyone.

"It was a stupid, most insane thing a human being could do," says Griffith. "He did not intend to kill Mr. Safra. He just wanted Mr. Safra to appreciate him more. He loved Mr. Safra. This was the best job of his life."

Ted told Griffith that in the early hours of Dec. 3, 1999, he was on duty in the Safras' lavish apartment on the top of the Republic Bank. Sometime after 4:30 a.m., he stabbed himself but claimed he had been attacked by two intruders.

Ted told the other nurse on duty, Vivian Torrente, that he had fought off the assailants. He gave her his cell phone to call for help.

He then ordered Torrente to take Safra into the secure dressing room while he went to the nearby nursing station and lit toilet paper in a trash basket to set off a smoke alarm.

"He started the fire in the tissues solely for the purpose of having a fire alarm go off. This was the only way to notify outside people that there was a problem," says Griffith. "And he accomplishes it. The fire alarm goes off."

Ted then made his way, bleeding and feeling faint, downstairs to the lobby of the building to get help. But while police and firemen got to the building, they didn't get to Edmond Safra and Vivian Torrente until it was too late.

"Ted never thought any of this stuff could happen. He thought as soon as that smoke detector went off, that the police would get here in 10 or 15 minutes, and they did," says Griffith. "And guess what? It took them another two and a half hours."

Griffith says that Maher is guilty of involuntary manslaughter because he did not intend for anyone to die. If he's convicted of that, he'll get a much shorter prison sentence.

Dunne, however, still isn't completely convinced that Ted Maher is responsible for Safra's death. And Ted's apparent change of heart comes as a complete surprise to this writer, who for the past two years had questioned the charges against Ted Maher in his monthly column in Vanity Fair.

"I believed this guy was being railroaded by powerful forces -- both in Monaco and in his immediate family," he says.

Dunne believes there are still unanswered questions. Why, for example, did it take two and half hours for firefighters to reach Safra and his nurse? Especially when Edmond Safra's wife Lily, who was in her bedroom on the other end of the apartment, was somehow able to get out.

Working against Griffith are lawyers bankrolled by Lily Safra, who wants to see Ted Maher convicted of a more serious charge than arson.

Griffith's strategy was to prove that Ted was not the only one responsible for the tragic deaths. In fact, he says the Monaco police and firemen were so disorganized that they actually detained and handcuffed the one man who could have helped them find Safra -- his own chief of security, who had been handed the keys to the apartment by Lily Safra.

According to court documents, Safra and Torrente, trapped in his dressing room, made calls on a cell phone begging for help. At 5 a.m., Torrente pleaded to a friend, "Please be quick and call the police." She called again at 5:20, 5:30, and 6:15 and at 6:30 a.m. But there was still no sign of the rescuers.

In court, Griffith also brings in Simon Swale, a security expert who questions why none of the Safra bodyguards were there. Swale testified that it was "very unusual" that a person with the wealth and background of Safra would be left alone at night.

48 Hours also learned that it was Lily Safra who just weeks before had sent away guards protecting her husband in Monaco and re-assigned them to the family estate in France.

Lily Safra refused repeated requests for an interview, but Bonnant said there was no need for security at the apartment.

The bottom line, says Bonnant, is that it was Ted Maher who set into motion the events that led to the death of two people. And as the trial continued, a very different picture of the defendant is revealed. Ted's father and two other blood relatives suffered from a severe mental illness, schizophrenia. In fact, Ted's courtroom behavior has been strange and erratic.

And while he didn't deny he set the fire that killed two people, he seemed without remorse.

Even Dunne isn't sure if he's been watching a martyr or a madman: "I'm just utterly confused."

With the evidence against Ted mounting, Heidi begins to wonder if she ever really knew her husband at all. She tearfully tells the court that Ted is a loving husband and a caring father. What she doesn't say, however, is that she was becoming more and more certain that he was also an unstable man.

After deliberating for three hours, the jury found Ted guilty as charged of arson leading to the death of two people. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Lily released a statement saying that justice had been done and that she hoped the verdict would end the gossip and speculation about her family.

However, it's clear that Edmond Safra's two surviving brothers feel differently. And their carefully worded statement leaves no question that they believe others share the blame: "Each know what they did and did not do. They must now live the rest of their lives with this knowledge."

Two months after the verdict, there was a startling development: Ted Maher cut the bars on his cell, and then, using a rope made of trashbags, climbed out and escaped. He had become an international fugitive.

Four thousand miles away, Heidi Maher picked up the phone. It was Ted. "'It's me Ted. I'm out. I'm proving how stupid they all are,'" says Heidi.

"Part of me wanted him home. But the bigger part of me was scared to death to have him here," she says. "I know the kids need their dad, but I don't think it's healthy to have Ted in their life."

Ted made it 15 miles to the French city of Nice before he was caught by police seven hours later.

Since 48 Hours first aired this story earlier this year, Ted Maher has been held in a French prison.

At a hearing just last month, it was clear that Ted's time in solitary has taken a toll. He's fighting to stay in France, where the laws are more lenient.

His local lawyer Donald Manasse will argue that Ted is eligible for an early release based on the three years he's already served. "We would make the request that he might be released as early as September or October," says Manasse. "It's not likely, but there's a possibility."

What is more likely, however, is that it will be several years before Ted is free. But once that happens, he won't find his wife waiting for him.

"I did the best I could to bring him home. But now, it seems like he's doing his own job of screwing up," says Heidi. "And I just can't be there forever to fix his mistakes."

Even if he's extradited to Monaco to face charges for escaping from prison, he could still end up back in France to serve out the rest of his sentence for the deaths of Edmond Safra and his nurse, Vivian Torrente. Monaco doesn't have any long-term prison facilities.

Ted's wife, Heidi, is also moving on. She's filed for divorce and she's going to school to be a nurse practitioner.

Go Back To Murder In Monaco.