Murder In Monaco: An American On Trial

Is Ted Maher Guilty Of Arson?

American lawyer Michael Griffith volunteered to assist with Ted Maher's defense.

The defense Griffith planned is this: 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., Maher stabbed himself but claimed he had been attacked by two intruders.

Ted then told the other nurse on duty, Vivien Torrente, that he had fought off the assailants. He gave her his cell phone to call for help. He ordered her to take Edmond Safra into the secure dressing room while he went to the nearby nursing station, where he lit toilet paper in a trash basket to set off a smoke alarm.

Why did he start the fire? "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 Vivien 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. And guess what? It took 'em another two and a half hours," Griffith says.

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

Is there any chance that Ted's original story was true and that he's being paid to take the fall for this? "I'm fairly confident that the facts that are coming out now are the facts," Griffith says.

Dunne still isn't completely convinced that Ted Maher is responsible for Safra's death. 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.

Said Bonnant: "Nobody would have told Edmond to come out at that point. I remind you, at that point, everybody thinks that there are two intruders who have come to assassinate Edmond. How could Lily say, 'Come out.'"

Griffith's strategy was to prove that Ted was not the only one responsible for the tragic deaths. He was looking primarily at the Monaco police and firemen. They were so disorganized, he's says, 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.

"He could have saved Mr. Safra. He knew the layout of the apartment," said Griffith.

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. There was still no sign of the rescuers.

Griffith questions others, too: In court, Griffith brings in Simon Swale, a security expert who questions why none of the Safra bodyguards were there.

"If you had a presence within the apartment on that night in question, I think this wouldn't have happened," Swale said. Swale, who used to protect British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, testified that it was "very unusual" that a person with the wealth and background of Safra would be left alone at night.

48 Hours learned that it was Lily Safra who just weeks before had sent away the guards protecting her husband in Monaco and re-assigned them to the family estate in France. Mrs. Safra refused repeated requests for an interview, but Bonnant, her attorney, said there was no need for security at the apartment.

"The house was secured. Nobody can come in. Secondly there are cameras all over the place. third he had two nurses with him. He died because the one whose protection was entrusted with his life put the fire to have him burned," Bonnant said.

The bottom line, said Bonnant, is that it was Ted Maher who set into motion the events that led to the death of two people. As the trial continued, a very different picture of the defendant comes out. Ted's father, and two other blood relatives, suffered from severe mental illness, schizophrenia.

In fact, Ted's courtroom behavior had been strange and erratic. And while he didn't deny he set the fire that killed two people, he seemed without remorse.

"I think he's mad, this man," said writer Dominick Dunne. "Mad as in crazy."

With the evidence against Ted mounting, Heidi began to wonder if she ever really knew him at all. She tearfully told the court that Ted is a loving husband and a caring father. But she was becoming more and more certain that he is 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.

But it's clear Edmond's Safra's two surviving brothers feel differently. 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," the statement read in part.

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.

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

"Part of me wanted him home," she said later. "But the bigger part of me was scared to death to have him here. 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 Nice before he was caught by police seven hours later.

Heidi is now disillusioned. "I'm angry at 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. And I just can't be there forever to fix his mistakes."

Heidi says she is ready to move on. "I don't need him and I don't want him. He just screwed up the next seven years of his life - at least! And the rest of his life, actually. Because he will not know his kids by the time he gets home. And he certainly will not know me."

Go Back To Part 1.


  • David Kohn

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