Fury over release of Belgian paedophile killer's accomplice
Victims of the crimes of Belgium's infamous child-killer Marc Dutroux led an outpouring of rage Tuesday after a court ruled in favour of the early release of the paedophile's accomplice and ex-wife.
Thrown behind bars in 1996 and later sentenced to 30 years for her role in the multiple Dutroux murders, Michelle Martin was granted conditional release Monday by a court in western Mons, after her fourth attempt for early freedom.
But in a country recently shaken by a Catholic Church paedophilia scandal, the release of the 51-year-old halfway through her term threw up an uproar and brought back the grisly trauma of the Dutroux child-sex case.
"It is far, far too early. Thirty years was already too little for the things she did. I say she must complete the 30 years," said Pol Marchal, father of one of the victims of the couple's rapes, kidnappings and deaths.
The Mons prosecutor, who opposes her release, has until Tuesday afternoon to appeal the decision to let her walk free.
"I take note of the court's decision. We will see whether there are grounds to appeal," said Justice Minister Stefaan de Clerck.
De Clerck told Belgian radio RTBF on Tuesday that Martin hoped to retire to a convent in France if freed, a process which would take time to work out -- meaning she would not walk free Tuesday.
Under Belgian law, convicts can appeal for early release after serving a third of their sentence. Pending Tuesday's decision the former primary school-teacher, who had three children with Dutroux, will remain in jail.
In a traumatic case still fresh in the minds of Belgians, Dutroux was jailed for life in June 2004 for the kidnap and rape in the 1990s of six young and teenage girls, four of whom died.
Hauled before a court the same year, Martin was found guilty of helping Dutroux hold his victims prisoner, and of complicity in the deaths of two of the little girls, found starved to death in a locked cellar in the southern city of Charleroi.
"She's the murderer of my daughter, 15 years seems light," said Jean-Denis Lejeune, mother of one of the two eight-year-olds found in the cellar -- Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo.
"Michelle Martin was as bad as Dutroux. She could've opened the door, given them water," he said. "We're allowing a monster out into society."
Martin, who consistently pleaded submissiveness to Dutroux during the trial, admitted to having locked the door to the cellar where the girls were held. She was supposed to have fed the captives during the absence of Dutroux but said she was too afraid.
"The survivors never understood exactly her role," said a lawyer for the victims' families, Georges-Henri Beauthier.
The return of the Dutroux case, viewed as one of the first in Europe to put paedophilia squarely in the public eye, comes as the Belgian Catholic Church squirms over a child abuse scandal involving more than 500 victims and smearing its hierarchy.
"The release of Michelle Martin will upset Belgian society," parliamentarian Denis Ducarme told Belga news agency.
The Dutroux affair broke in August 1996, when police arrested the unemployed electrician after the abduction of 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez.
She was found alive two days later along with severely emaciated Sabine Dardenne, 12, cowering in the basement of his Charleroi house.
The case then took a more gruesome turn when the bodies of Lejeune and Russo were found buried in the garden of Dutroux's main residence in the southern town of Sars La Buissiere.
Less than a month later, the bodies of An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks were found in another property owned by Dutroux.
Public shock turned to fury when it emerged not only that police had missed a string of clues, but that Dutroux had been released from jail in 1992 after serving just three years of a 13-year sentence for the abduction and rape of five girls.
© 2011 AFP