Dutroux is given life sentence for child murders

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The Independent Online

Eight years after Marc Dutroux's dreadful crimes were uncovered, he was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for child kidnappings, rapes and murders that horrified Belgium and plunged the country into crisis.

Eight years after Marc Dutroux's dreadful crimes were uncovered, he was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for child kidnappings, rapes and murders that horrified Belgium and plunged the country into crisis.

The decision brought to an end the trial of Belgium's most notorious criminal. He had been found guilty by a jury in the town of Arlon last week of the murder of two teenage girls and one of his accomplices, although he claimed there was a widespread ring of paedophiles in Belgium.

Dutroux's former wife, Michelle Martin, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of causing the death of two eight-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, who starved to death in a basement cell. At the time, Dutroux was serving a term for car theft.

Yesterday's court proceedings, broadcast live on national television, brought down the curtain on one of Belgium's biggest trials, which had gripped the country since it began on 1 March. The judge, Stephane Goux, said he hoped the sentence would offer Dutroux's victims, two of whom testified against him, a chance to "move on".

Dutroux, aged 47, was found guilty of murdering 17-year-old An Marchal and 19-year-old Eefje Lambrecks, and an accomplice, Bernard Weinstein. All three were buried alive while drugged. Though the sentence can be reviewed after 20 years, Belgian legal experts said it was unlikely he will be freed.

Another accomplice, Michel Lelievre, was sentenced to 25 years for complicity in the kidnappings and other charges. The last co-defendant, Michel Nihoul, was sentenced to five years for helping smuggle drugs and people into Belgium.

Before the sentence was pronounced, Dutroux told the court: "For the record, I want to say that I didn't rape Julie and Melissa and I will continue to search for the truth about An, Eefje and Weinstein. How can I remain silent after the media completely ignored my right to be presumed innocent?"

Judge Goux told Dutroux: "I believe that you still come out of it better than most of the victims who are no longer among the living."

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