French children murdered with 'poisoned cannelloni'

8th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

A mother and her husband in debt stand trial for murdering her two children with ‘poisoned cannelloni’ a day before she gives birth to a still-born baby.

Aix-en-Provence – A Frenchwoman denied Monday killing her two children with poisoned cannelloni the day before she gave birth to a still-born baby whose rotting body was later found on her balcony.

"I am innocent," Marie-Helene Martinez told a court in the southern town of Aix-en-Provence, where she and her husband Jean-Paul Steijns are on trial for the murder of eight-year-old Melissa and seven-year-old Jason.

The couple allegedly decided in 2005 to poison their children, believing they would be better able to pull themselves out of debt without them.

"I loved my children. I could never have done this," Martinez, 29, said as she took the stand, dressed in black and fighting back tears.

But her husband told the court that both he and his wife were guilty.

"I am conscious that I took part in a horrible act that claimed the lives of three innocent children," Steijns said, before adding: "I should have prevented her from committing such a crime."

When Martinez arrived at the court, a brief scuffle broke out with members of the family of her first husband – Antoine Correlejo, who is the children's biological father – and police were forced to intervene.

Steijns, 39, alleges his wife persuaded him to carry out the crime when the couple risked losing their apartment in the nearby city of Marseille after several months of defaulting on rent.

On the night of 18 September 2005, Melissa and Jason complained that the meat-stuffed cannelloni served by their parents tasted bitter and they went to bed that night without finishing their plates, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

They died that night and the bodies, hidden in a car boot, were discovered a month later when Steijns confessed to police.

Police also found the decomposed body of a newborn baby lying on the balcony of their Marseille apartment in 2005 but the couple is not on trial in that case.

Investigators have been unable to establish the circumstances of the death, given the advanced stage of the body's decomposition.

Martinez's version of events differed radically to her husband's.

"Steijns prepared the meal," she told the court. "Melissa made a funny face, she said it had a strange taste. I took a mouthful. It was bitter and I couldn't eat the rest."

When she later put her children to bed, she said she saw nothing unusual and went to bed herself.

But when she woke up she gave birth to a still-born child, she said.

The prosecutor asked her why she then left the apartment without any apparent concern for Melissa and Jason.

"I was like a zombie when I saw my dead baby. I was no longer myself," she replied.

Her former partner Correlejo, with whom Martinez had lived for seven years, said he believed she was innocent.

The children's paternal grandmother broke down in tears as she sat in the courtroom, holding photos of her two smiling grand-children and later told reporters she hoped the two would get life sentences.

The couple has been charged with premeditated murder by administrating lethal substances. A verdict is expected on Friday.

Steijns' lawyer, Fabien Perez, was quoted by Le Parisien as saying that his client was manipulated by Martinez who allegedly told him that the "only way to start afresh is to sacrifice the children."

But lawyers for Martinez say Steijns was behind the plot to kill the children and that he had a reputation as a con artist.

AFP / Expatica

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