MONS, (Belgium): The ex-wife and accomplice of Marc Dutroux, the convicted child murderer whose crimes horrified Belgium in the mid-1990s, is to be released from prison and sent to a convent, a court ruled yesterday.
Dutroux was arrested in 1996 and later found guilty of kidnapping and raping six girls. He killed two of them and left two others to starve to death in a makeshift dungeon.
Having served half of her term, Martin has been cleared for conditional release, and yesterday a court in the southern Belgian city of Mons accepted a plan to house her in a convent.
The decision angered the families of victims.
“I have a profound rage,” Jean-Denis Lejeune, father of Julie, one of the girls left to die in the cellar, told Belgian broadcaster RTL. “You kill a child, you rape a child. They are raped, they are killed for life.”
While only the Belgian prosecutor can appeal against the ruling, a lawyer for the families of two victims said they would challenge the way the case was handled.
“Last week we are told: ‘We are asking you questions, but you cannot see the files. We are asking you questions, but you cannot plead, and you cannot appeal’. So we were put outside, pure and simple’,” said Georges-Henri Beauthier.
He said his clients would if necessary take their action to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Martin’s lawyer, Thierry Moreau, told reporters after the hearing that his client was likely to be released in about two weeks. He said she was a changed woman.
“I really think that the woman who comes out today is not the woman who went in 1996,” Moreau said. “For Mrs Martin nothing has been erased and, as she says herself, her guilt will follow her to the grave.”
The court ruled that Martin, who was not in court, could go to the Clarisse Convent in Malonne, a village 60 km (37 miles) southeast of the Belgian capital, Brussels.
“We pollute Malonne, we stain the memory of these little girls and these other people who died for nothing,” said resident Michel Dethier. “This is monstrous.”
This was Martin’s fifth legal bid to be released from prison.
The Dutroux crimes have haunted Belgium, an overwhelmingly Catholic and socially conservative nation, for years, leading authorities to take measures to improve the safety of children.
The crimes also raised questions about the negligence of police and possible complicity of justice authorities.
In 1996, 300,000 people dressed in white, the colour of innocence, marched through Brussels to demand reforms of the political and judicial systems.
In a sign of how sensitive the case remains, about 93 percent of respondents to an online poll by broadcaster RTL said Martin was being released too early.