French Court Approves Extradition of US Rape Suspect Cleary

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Beneath the steadfast gaze of Lady Justice, a French court thrummed with activity in the vibrant city of Lyon on Monday. It was here that the fate of Ian Cleary, a 31-year-old American man from the bustling city of Saratoga, California, hung delicately in the balance. Accused of sexually assaulting a Pennsylvania college student in 2013 and subsequently dispatching a morbid Facebook message which read, “So I raped you,” the court concluded that Cleary could be extradited back to the United States.

The law had been trailing Cleary like a relentless shadow, culminating in his arrest in April. The city of Metz in northeastern France, known for its imposing Gothic cathedral, served as the backdrop for this long-awaited capture after three years of tireless searching. From that point on, Cleary had been shackled by the chains of custody, waiting nervously for the culmination of his extradition proceedings.

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Court of Appeal in Metz, under the stern gaze of justice, pointed an unyielding finger towards extradition for Cleary. When presented with the customary option as stipulated by French law—to be extradited or not—Cleary voiced his refusal. This denial, however, serves only to stall the wheels of justice, not halt them altogether.

The decisive ruling passed by the court is immutable and irreversible. The French Justice Ministry is now gingerly picking up the reins, tasked with drafting and dispatching an extradition order to the French prime minister. As uncertainty hangs in the air like dense fog, Cleary remains confined within France’s borders, waiting stubbornly for the prime minister’s decisive ink to mark the order.

But while Cleary bides his time in French custody, a storm of controversy brews across the American continent. In 2021, Cleary had become the target of a widespread international search following an AP story that highlighted the hesitance of local prosecutors to scrutinize campus sex crimes and a corresponding felony warrant issued for him in Pennsylvania.

The warrant paints a grim picture, alleging Cleary’s stalking of an 18-year-old female student from Gettysburg College, infiltrating her dorm, and committing the atrocious act of sexual assault while she desperately reached out for help. In 2013, a young Cleary was a fellow student at Gettysburg, but he never returned to the campus halls.

A heartbroken Shannon Keeler—the assault victim—must have felt a tumult of emotions the day she underwent a rape exam soon after the incident. She armed herself with courage and collected a trove of evidence and witnesses, summoning officials to press charges. Yet she clung tight to her resolve and approached the authorities in 2021 upon unearthing Facebook messages that she believed were from Cleary.

These disturbing words, “I’ll never do it again,” punctuated with pleas for forgiveness and inquiring after her well being, hang like a chilling specter of past trauma.

Shannon was the core piece of a puzzle that led to Cleary’s arrest. And while her assault was horrific and personal, it represents a broader issue. The sad reality is that, across the U.S., very few campus rapes meet prosecution—either because victims fear law enforcement, or prosecutors feel they have a slim chance of winning. But Keeler, taking fate into her own hands, decided to follow her own path towards justice.