Paedophile killer Dutroux's accomplice set for early release
A Belgian court ruled Monday in favour of the early release of the accomplice and ex-wife of one of Europe's most infamous child killers, Marc Dutroux, triggering the fury of victims' families.
In a country reeling from a Catholic Church paedophilia scandal, the release of Michelle Martin halfway through her 30-year term -- if confirmed by the judiciary -- looks set to revive the grisly trauma of the Dutroux child-sex case.
Thrown behind bars in 1996 and later sentenced for her role in the multiple Dutroux murders, 51-year-old Martin was granted conditional release after her fourth attempt to win early freedom by a court in the western city of Mons.
The Mons prosecutor, who opposes her release, has until Tuesday afternoon to appeal the decision to let her walk free. Pending a decision the former primary school-teacher, who had three children with Dutroux, will remain in jail.
"I take note of the court's decision. We will see whether there are reasons to appeal," said Justice Minister Stefaan de Clerck.
Under Belgian law, convicts can appeal for early release after serving a third of their sentence. A final ruling would rest with the country's highest appeals court.
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 small 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 small 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.
"We're allowing a monster out into society."
Martin admitted during her trial 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.
The family of another victim, Eefje Lambrecks, said in court that they opposed Martin's release because "she never voiced sincere regrets."
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.
In the latest revelations, the former bishop of Bruges publicly admitted last month to molesting two of his nephews for years while saying there was "no penetration."
"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, in the basement of his Charleroi house.
But the case 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 he 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.
Outrage over the case grew, with more than 300,000 people taking to the street in Brussels in October 1996, in the first of a series of marches to protest judicial incompetence.
© 2011 AFP