Beast of Belgium faces life for rapes and murders

The Beast of Belgium, paedophile Marc Dutroux, faces life in prison after being convicted today of a series of child rapes and murders in a case that has horrified the country for nearly a decade.

The Beast of Belgium, paedophile Marc Dutroux, faces life in prison after being convicted today of a series of child rapes and murders in a case that has horrified the country for nearly a decade.

Even his own defence lawyer admitted the 47-year-old unemployed electrician was “the most detested man in Belgium”

The jury of eight women and four men convicted Dutroux of kidnapping, imprisoning and raping six girls in 1995-96, leading to torture and deaths.

It also found him guilty of murdering An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, as well as an alleged accomplice, Bernard Weinstein.

All three bodies were found buried on his property.

“Finally we will be able to punish these assassins,” said Jeanine Lejeune, grandmother of one of the victims as she entered the court to hear the verdicts.

“This is the day that we will avenge my little girl.”

The jury in Arlon found Dutroux guilty of involvement in the kidnapping of two eight-year-olds – the first to disappear – but his ex-wife, Michelle Martin, was found to be responsible for their deaths.

She was convicted of imprisonment leading to death.

The two starved to death while imprisoned in a basement dungeon in his house while Dutroux served a short jail term for car theft. Martin testified she was too afraid to go downstairs to feed the two girls.

The last victims, Sabine Dardenne, then 12, and Laetitia Delhez, then 14 - were rescued from the basement prison two days after Dutroux’s arrest in August 1996,.

Both delivered courageous, emotional testimony during the 3 1/2 month trial, staring Dutroux in the eye and asking him why he did what he did. Dutroux, who sat in the dock behind bullet-proof glass, did not respond.

In his final statement to the court, he expressed regret but did not apologise.

Michel Lelievre was convicted of complicity in the kidnappings and other charges.

The final co-defendant, Michel Nihoul, was convicted of being part of a gang that smuggled drugs and people into Belgium.

But the jury’s vote to convict him of being part of Dutroux’s gang and involved in kidnapping and imprisoning one of the surviving victims was only 7-5.

After a brief recess, the three judges overturned those split verdicts and sent the jury back to consider a lesser charge of whether Nihoul was an accomplice in those crimes. The court then adjourned until the jury makes its decision.

Relatives leaving the courtroom expressed satisfaction that at least some guilty verdicts were returned against all four.

“They are guilty of everything, even the killings, even the torture,” said Paul Marchal, the father of one victim.

“This has confirmed what I thought: They worked together,” said Louisa Lejeune, mother of one of the eight-year-old victims. “The recognition of this is a relief.”

Her husband said he would have preferred an admission of guilt for the kidnapping of his daughter, Julie. Dutroux had denied involvement.

“What we wanted was for the guilty parties to admit it,” Jean-Denis Lejeune said. But, he added, “It is important to know that these sort of people are no longer on the streets.”

All parties will be given an opportunity to address the court prior to sentencing.

The jury and judges were to retire together to decide on sentences, deliberations that may take hours or days.

In Belgium, no appeal against a jury verdict is allowed except on procedural grounds. In that case, the Cour de Cassation, the supreme court, reviews the verdict.

Dutroux, who faces life in prison, was out on parole at the time of the crimes after serving a prison sentence for raping young girls in the 1980s.

That revelation stirred national outrage, along with tales of official bungling during the search for the missing girls and even after the arrests.

Dutroux’s brief escape from jail in 1998 led to the resignation of the Belgian justice and interior ministers as well as the chief of the state police force.

The case was directly responsible for improvements in child protection laws in Belgium and reforms of the judiciary and police.

Dutroux and the three other defendants were not in the court while the jury foremen announced the 243 verdicts to avoid any potential pressure or influence on the jurors.

The defendants learned their fate afterward from the court.

Dutroux admitted to kidnapping and sexually abusing the two survivors - Dardenne and Delhez. But he denied killing An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, as well as the alleged accomplice, Bernard Weinstein.

He also denied involvement in the kidnapping and deaths of Lejeune and the other eight-year-old, Melissa Russo.

His ex-wife Martin apologised for not feeding Julie and Melissa. Lelievre admitted kidnapping but not raping or killing Marchal and Lambrecks. Nihoul denied involvement in the kidnappings.

The bungled investigation into the missing girls led many Belgians came to believe Dutroux worked under the protection of a child sex ring whose members included influential people.

He played on that widely held belief, insisting that he was a reluctant accomplice to the ring.

But the 440,000 pages of evidence and more than 500 witnesses produced no new leads at the trial.

Dutroux sought to paint himself as the pawn of a still-hidden crime ring that was kidnapping young girls in eastern Europe to become prostitutes – a scenario rejected by prosecutors, who said they found no evidence.

Dutroux accused Nihoul of being his link to the syndicate, a charge Nihoul denied.

Dutroux and his three lawyers failed to introduce proof to back those claims.

Martin and Lelievre face possible maximum 30-year sentences and Nihoul 10 years on the charges he is so far convicted of.

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