French mother 'relieved' after admitting baby killings

30th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The French mother who admitted killing eight of her newborn babies is relieved her secret is finally out, her lawyer said Friday, in a case that has stunned the country.

Relatives voiced disbelief that Dominique Cottrez, 45, hid eight pregnancies and births and smothered the newborns, whose bodies were found in plastic bin bags in the quiet northern village of Villers-au-Tertre.

Colleagues who worked alongside the auxiliary nurse described her as "a pearl", with whom they would not have hesitated to leave their own kids, and struggled to comprehend the horrific story that has emerged.

Cottrez was charged with multiple murders Thursday after she admitted smothering the eight infants. Police found the skeletal remains buried in a garden and hidden under household clutter in a garage.

"She doesn't have to carry this on her conscience any more, and that's a kind of relief," her lawyer Frank Berton told reporters, adding that she was "tired, worn out and battered down" after her questioning.

Her husband, 45-year-old carpenter Pierre-Marie Cottrez, has not been charged and insists he had had no idea that his wife was pregnant on any of the eight occasions that led to the babies' deaths.

His lawyer said the mother must have had some psychological problem, supporting the defence's attempts to portray her as a victim of a syndrome known as "denial of pregnancy".

"Given the number of children found, we are looking at a situation of denial of pregnancy or serious psychological or psychiatric problems," said lawyer Pierre-Jean Gribouva.

According to Gribouva, the father -- with whom Cottrez brought up two surviving daughters, now adults and mothers themselves -- only discovered what had happened on Tuesday as he was being questioned by police.

"He doesn't feel vindictive towards his wife. He has the merit of wanting to understand. A family is a holy union, and the father and the children are all standing together," the lawyer said.

Stunned residents of the village near the city of Lille laid flowers at the houses where the babies' remains were found, and the French media reached out to psychological experts to try to understand how a mother could kill so many infants.

Sophie Marinopoulos, psychiatrist at Nantes maternity hospital told AFP that the theory of a "denial of pregnancy" -- which has been used as a defence in other infanticide cases -- was plausible.

"To my knowledge women do not organise their pregnancies in order to kill their children," she said.

"It is a case of psychological suffering. As long as the reasons for the problem are not removed, the problem can continue to manifest itself."

According to prosecutors, Cottrez said that after a difficult pregnancy with one of her surviving daughters she had not wanted to go back to see a doctor, even to be prescribed contraception.

Her brother-in-law Yves Cottrez described the killings as "incomprehensible", in comments quoted by the daily Le Parisien.

"And my brother saw nothing, even though he sleeps next to his wife... but Dominique was always heavily built, it didn't show when she was pregnant with her two daughters," he said.

Press reports said that Cottrez weighed 130 kilos (286 pounds).

"She was a really good nursing assistant, a pearl, a good person, very human, someone with all the right qualities," said 63-year-old Francine Caron, who worked with Cottrez at a company providing home help.

Caron said that her friend was a gentle caregiver and that she had often seen her cry when her elderly patients died.

The new owners of her parents' former home found the remains of two newborns buried in their garden as they planted a tree at the weekend.

The remains of the other six infants were later found dumped, also in plastic sacks, in the garage of her current home.

Berton said Cottrez would undergo psychological tests to determine whether she was fully responsible for her acts.

"We're in disbelief," one of the couple's daughters, Virginie, 21, told the regional newspaper La Voix du Nord. "Mum was always secretive, but she never judged us. She accompanied us and supported us."

The Villers tragedy followed a string of similar cases in France in recent years, in which isolated and troubled mothers killed their newborns.

© 2010 AFP

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