Belgian paedophile killer's accomplice to walk free

10th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The accomplice and ex-wife of Belgium's notorious child killer Marc Dutroux was set to walk free on Tuesday after serving barely half of a 30-year-sentence, amid a national outcry.

Michelle Martin, the 51-year-old mother of three of the jailed killer's children, was poised for freedom after a prosecutor in this western town said there were no grounds to appeal her early release.

A court decision Monday which sparked wide outrage granted conditional release to Martin on her fourth request for early freedom on good behaviour.

Enraged relatives of the string of young girls victimised by Dutroux and his timid sweetheart had pinned hopes on keeping her behind bars on Mons prosecutor Claude Michaux finding a legal loophope to enable an appeal.

But Michaux told reporters in Mons there were "no grounds" to take the matter to the country's highest appeals court.

"Though I do not agree with the decision, I have therefore decided not to introduce an appeal," he said.

Under Belgian law, convicts can appeal for early release after serving a third of their sentence.

Justice Minister Stefaan de Clerck said Martin hoped to retire to a convent in France if freed, a process which needs approval from the French authorities.

"I believe it is a question of weeks" before she leaves jail, Michaux said.

News that a woman viewed by many as a monster could be released any day has outraged much of the country and infuriated victims of the couple's serial murders, rapes and kidnappings in the mid 1990s.

In a nation already reeling from a Catholic Church paedophilia scandal, the return of the grisly Dutroux affair has revived old nightmares, with a Facebook petition opposing her release picking up 80,000 signatures in a night, including calls for a public lynching, before being removed from the web.

"Release is inevitable but disgusting," said an editorialist for the daily Le Soir on Tuesday.

Dutroux was jailed for life in June 2004 for the kidnap and rape in the 1990s of six young and teenaged 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.

"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, a quiet woman who consistently pleaded submissiveness to Dutroux at 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 return of the Dutroux affair, 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," said parliamentarian Denis Ducarme.

Dutroux, an unemployed electrician allegedly surviving on drug-dealing and stolen cars, was arrested in August 1996 after 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez went missing.

She was found alive two days later along with severely emaciated Sabine Dardenne, 12, cowering in the basement of one of his homes.

The case then took a gruesome turn when the bodies of Lejeune and Russo were found buried in the garden of his main residence.

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.

Martin, who like many of his other women met him at an ice-rink, was convicted and jailed for that affair too. She served only two years of her five-year sentence.

© 2011 AFP

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