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Fury over release of Belgian paedophile killer's accomplice

11 may 2011, 16:42
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A woman holds the pictures of Julie and Melissa, two victims of Marc Dutroux. AFP PHOTO / JULIEN WARNAND©
A woman holds the pictures of Julie and Melissa, two victims of Marc Dutroux. AFP PHOTO / JULIEN WARNAND©
Enraged victims of the crimes of Belgium's infamous child-killer Marc Dutroux anxiously awaited a judicial decision Tuesday on whether to allow the early release of the paedophile's accomplice and ex-wife, AFP reports.

Thrown behind bars in 1996 and handed a 30-year sentence for her role in the multiple Dutroux murders, Michelle Martin was granted conditional release Monday by a court in western Mons on her fourth request for early freedom on good behaviour.

But the prospect of the 51-year-old, often viewed as a monster, walking free after 15 years' jail is causing a storm, infuriating relatives of the victims and the public in a country reeling from a Catholic Church paedophilia scandal.

"Release is inevitable but disgusting," said an editorialist for the daily Le Soir as the grisly trauma of the Dutroux child-sex case returned to haunt the country's media.

The Mons prosecutor Claude Michaux has until 1400 GMT on Tuesday to decide whether to appeal the decision by sending it to Belgium's highest appeals court.

"It is far, far too early. Thirty years was already too little for the things she did. I say she must complete the 30 years," said Pol Marchal, father of one of the victims of the couple's rapes, kidnappings and deaths.

Justice Minister Stefaan de Clerck said Martin hoped to retire to a convent in France if freed, a process which would take some time to work out as she would come under the authority of French probation officers.

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

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 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 timid 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 survivors never understood exactly her role," said a lawyer for the victims' families, Georges-Henri Beauthier.

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," parliamentarian Denis Ducarme told Belga news agency.

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.


By Claire Rosemberg

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