Belgian court grants Dutroux's ex-wife early release


BRUSSELS – The ex-wife and accomplice of Marc Dutroux, the child murderer whose crimes horrified Belgium in the 1990s, was due to be freed yesterday after serving half her jail term.

Belgium’s highest appeal court yesterday dismissed a bid by prosecutors to overturn a lower court’s decision last month to approve Michelle Martin’s early release.

Martin’s lawyer said she would be freed yesterday. She is expected to move into a convent which has already been daubed with graffiti by angry protesters.

Dutroux was arrested in 1996 and found guilty of kidnapping and raping six girls. He killed two and left two others to starve to death in a makeshift dungeon.

Martin failed to feed the girls while Dutroux was jailed for car theft. She was convicted of helping him and has now served 16 years of a 30-year sentence.

Judge Albert Fettweis dismissed the appeal yesterday before a packed court. Under Belgian law, criminals can be freed after serving a third of their sentences if they meet certain conditions.

Among the crowd in the courtroom earlier in the day was Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose daughter Julie was left to die in Dutroux’s cellar.

Martin’s lawyer, Thierry Moreau, later told reporters: “She will leave [prison] today, because if we detain her for longer than today, that would mean someone has committed another offence.”

About 10 protesters stood outside the court hearing, two holding a banner reading “Hang Paedophiles”.

Hundreds took to the streets of Brussels earlier this month to protest against the release and demand tougher rules on freeing convicted criminals.

Martin is due to live in the convent in the village of Malonne, 60km (37 miles) southeast of Brussels and just 30km from the house where Dutroux kept the girls captive. The Poor Clares convent, which has said it agreed to take her in the spirit of Christian forgiveness, is next to a nursery school and offers retreats and musical performances.

The mayor of Namur, which oversees Malonne, said he had no means to prevent Martin’s arrival and police were already prepared to control protests. – (Reuters)