French mum relieved after admitting baby killings

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A French mother who killed eight of her newborn babies is relieved her deadly secret is finally out, her lawyer said Friday.

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

Cottrez, a nursing assistant, has been charged with multiple murders after police found the skeletal remains of the eight infants, buried in a garden and hidden under household clutter in a garage.

The oldest of the babies is believed to have been born in 1989 and the youngest in 2006 or 2007, prosecutors said.

After 20 years, "she doesn't have to carry this on her conscience any more, and that's a kind of relief," lawyer Frank Berton told reporters.

He added that Cottrez was "tired, worn out and battered down" after her questioning and "in a state of considerable confusion."

Stunned residents in the village laid flowers at the houses where the babies were found.

"It's incomprehensible. We can't believe something like this could happen," Dominique Cottrez's brother-in-law Yves Cottrez was quoted as saying 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."

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

She was charged with murder Thursday after she admitted suffocating the eight newborns "because she did not want more children and wished to avoid seeing a doctor for contraception", prosecutor Eric Vaillant told reporters.

The new owners of her parents' former home found the remains of two babies buried in their garden as they planted a tree at the weekend. The other six infants were found dumped in plastic sacks in Cottrez's garage.

Berton said Cottrez would undergo psychological tests to determine whether she was fully responsible for her acts. The lawyer praised his client for immediately cooperating with investigators after her arrest on Tuesday.

Cottrez faces trial and life imprisonment. Her husband Pierre-Marie Cottrez was freed after denying any knowledge of the killings or the eight pregnancies.

"We can't understand it," one of the couple's daughters, Virginie, 21, told La Voix du Nord newspaper. "Mum was always secretive, but she never judged us. She accompanied us and supported us."

There have been a string of similar cases in France in recent years, in which isolated and troubled mothers killed newborn babies.

Earlier this year a mother was convicted of killing six of her newborn children and hiding them in the cellar of her house in northwestern France.

Another mother was jailed in June last year for smothering two boys born in secret at her expatriate home in South Korea, and a third child born in France, and hiding them in a freezer.

In past cases some defendants have said they were in denial about their pregnancies and not fully responsible for their actions, but Vaillant said Cottrez had admitted to being "perfectly aware" of her condition.

Her lawyer warned that the prosecutor may have been "a bit quick" to draw this conclusion.

"She was a very good auxiliary nurse, a gem, a good person and very human," said Francine Caron, one of Cottrez's superiors in her nursing unit in the nearby town of Douai who had known her for 13 years.

"I could have entrusted my children and grand-children to her with no worries."

© 2010 AFP

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