Dutroux verdict 'raises morequestions than it answers'
18 June 2004, BRUSSELS - The conviction of paedophile Marc Dutroux on multiple charges of murder, rape and kidnappings appeared Friday to have failed to draw a line under one of the most controversial criminal cases in Belgian history.
18 June 2004
BRUSSELS - The conviction of paedophile Marc Dutroux on multiple charges of murder, rape and kidnappings appeared Friday to have failed to draw a line under one of the most controversial criminal cases in Belgian history.
The families of Dutroux's victims expressed mixed reactions of relief and suspicion at the verdicts, while the Belgian press largely slammed the trial's conclusion as a "fiasco".
The widespread speculation before the trial that Dutroux had been part of a paedophile network which wielded influence to escape investigation was dismissed by the verdict on Thursday which found Dutroux guilty of heading a small gang that kidnapped and raped six girls in the mid-1990s, and of killing two of them.
During the trial, in Arlon, Dutroux admitted abducting and raping the two girls found alive at his home, but denied the murder charges, saying he was part of a wider paedophile ring in which he said his co-defendant, Michel Nihoul, played a key role.
The manner of the acquittal of 63-year-old conman Nihoul, one of Dutroux' three co-accused, on charges of organising the abduction of six of the girls, was the subject of angry commentary in the Belgian press.
The 12 jurors were split seven-five on Nihoul's guilt when the trial ended on Thursday but declared him not guilty after they were ordered by the three trial judges to reconsider their verdict.
"The jury shared the doubts of the people," commented Belgian daily Le Soir de Bruxelles, calling the conclusion a "judicial imbroglio". Public opinion in Belgium remains disturbed by Dutroux's persistent claim that he was not the "lone predator" as described by the prosecution.
Le Soir said Belgium's "trial of the century" was "full of suspense right to the end because the jury had to go back to deliberate before deciding to acquit Nihoul of any role or complicity in the children's kidnappings".
"We will probably never know the precise motivations of the jury members," commented the Flemish-language daily Gazet van Antwerpen. Another flemish daily, the Standaard, said that by forcing the jury to acquit him of the more serious charges, the judges had produced a result that was "stranger than fiction".
Francophone daily La Derniere Heure, which published a special edition on the trial, described the judges' instructions as "a slap in the face of the jury" and said they had made "a mess" of the trial. It invited readers "to give your opinion on the verdict".
The criticism echoed public anger at the long history of bungling over the Dutroux case, in which it took eight years, after his arrest, to reach a trial. During the 1980s, Dutroux was let out early after being convicted of five other rapes, fuelling suspicions that there was a wider paedophile conspiracy involving prominent government officials.
The details of the incompetence of the gendarmerie and judicial investigations led to mass protests in Belgium. During the hearings it was revealed that detectives had searched Dutroux's house, where he kept his victims in an underground cell, but failed to locate the captives.
The bodies of An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, were dug up in the garden of the house after his arrest in August 1996.
After the verdicts were announced An's father Pol Marchal said: "I'm relieved. It's very important that it has been said, that the jury has said, 'it's Dutroux that murdered your daughter'."
Eefje's father Jean Lambrecks, expressing "extraordinary relief", said: "We can finally resume a normal life and I'm going at last to be able to devote myself to my family."
But Jean-Denis Lejeune, the father of Julie, one of two eight-year-old girls who starved to death in a dungeon in the house, expressed frustration at Dutroux's refusal to admit his guilt.
"We still do not know who killed the little ones and what they did to them," Lejeune said.
Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo died while Dutroux was in jail for car theft and he blamed his ex-wife Michelle Martin, 44, for failing to feed them.
But the prosecution said it could not charge Dutroux with their murder because the exact times of their deaths were uncertain. He was indicted for abducting them, which he denied.
"Dutroux has been found guilty, but since he admits nothing, there is still a question mark over this as far as we are concerned," Lejeune said.
Dutroux, 47, is expected to be jailed for life once sentencing is delivered probably early next week.
Dutroux's former wife Michelle Martin was found guilty of imprisoning the girls and of rape, while Michel Lelievre, 33, a former heroin addict described by prosecutors as Dutroux's "faithful companion", was convicted of kidnapping and drug-dealing. Both Martin and Lelievre face up to 35 years.
Nihoul faces up to 20 years in jail after being found guilty of drug-dealing, peddling false documents and trading in stolen vehicles.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news