Jury reaches verdict in Belgium's Dutroux child rape-murder trial

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The Independent Online

A jury today convicted Belgium's public enemy No. 1, Marc Dutroux, of responsibility for a series of child rapes and deaths in a case that has horrified the country for nearly a decade and led to reforms of the judiciary and police.

A jury today convicted Belgium's public enemy No. 1, Marc Dutroux, for a series of child rapes and murders in a case that has horrified the country for nearly a decade.

The 12-member jury convicted Dutroux, a 47-year-old ex-convict, for kidnapping and holding hostage six girls, leading to torture and deaths, in 1995-96. It also found him guilty of murdering two of the girls and an accomplice.

The jury was being polled on 243 counts in all against Dutroux and his three co-defendants, including his ex-wife and two other alleged accomplices.

The case has riveted Belgium and beyond for almost a decade, and television stations broadcast the verdict live from outside the courthouse in this southeastern city.

The Dutroux case led to reforms of the judiciary and police.

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.Relatives of the victims heading into the courthouse said that they were hoping for closure.

"I don't think this has helped me with the grieving process, but at least I will know that my granddaughter is avenged," Jeanine Lejeune, whose 8-year-old granddaughter was one of the first to disappear, told RTBF television.

Dutroux and the three other defendants were not inside the courtroom while the jury was being polled to avoid any potential pressure or influence on the jurors, officials said. The defendants will be brought in afterward when the decision is announced by the court.

If convicted, all will be given an opportunity to address the court on sentencing, after which the jury and three judges will retire together to make a decision. Those deliberations could take hours or days.

The court will then reconvene and the presiding judge will read the entire verdict and sentences.

Dutroux admitted to kidnapping and sexually abusing two girls - Sabine Dardenne, then 12, and Laetitia Delhez, then 14 - who were rescued from a basement prison in his house two days before his August 13, 1996, arrest.

But he denied killing An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, as well as the alleged accomplice, Bernard Weinstein.

He also denies involvement in the kidnapping and deaths of two 8-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both of whom starved to death in his basement in early 1996 while he was serving a short jail term for car theft.

Also in the dock are Dutroux's ex-wife, Michelle Martin, and two other alleged accomplices Michel Lelievre and Michel Nihoul.

Martin apologised to the court for not feeding Julie and Melissa, while Dutroux was in jail for four months for car theft. Lelievre admits kidnapping but not raping or killing Marchal and Lambrecks, while Nihoul denies involvement in the kidnappings.

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.

Martin and Lelievre face possible maximum 30-year sentences and Nihoul 20 years if found guilty.

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