'Psychopath' Dutroux should face at least 20 years in jail, court told

Marc Dutroux, the most reviled man in Belgium, should spend the rest of his life behind bars for multiple child rapes and murders, prosecutors in Arlon said yesterday.

"This man is a psychopath, a narcissist, a manipulator with no conscience, and he will never have one," Michel Bourlet told the assize court. A jury and three-judge panel will decide the sentence as early as today.

On Thursday, the 12-member jury found Dutroux guilty of three murders and rapes and abductions in 1995-96, ending more than three months of shocking testimony. Mr Bourlet said Dutroux was on parole from a 13-year sentence for raping and imprisoning young girls in 1989 when he struck again.

Even with a life sentence, Dutroux could be eligible for parole in 10 years, but Mr Bourlet asked that he be kept behind bars for a total of 20 years, a special security provision of Belgian law for dangerous criminals.

Dutroux, a 47-year-old unemployed electrician, was convicted of abducting, imprisoning and raping six girls. He was also found guilty of murdering two of the girls, 17-year-old An Marchal and 19-year-old Eefje Lambrecks, and an accomplice, Bernard Weinstein. Their bodies were buried on his property, which had a specially built basement cell where the victims had been imprisoned.

Dutroux's trial stunned and outraged Belgium by uncovering bungled police work. In 1996, about 300,000 people took to the streets of Brussels in protest in the country's biggest postwar demonstrations. The nation was shocked to learn police had searched his house but failed to find the secret cell, although they heard voices.

Defence attorneys pleaded for leniency. They maintained he did not act alone, and that despite his crimes, he was not a monster. "He's not the devil," lawyer Martine Van Praet told Belgian media outside the courtroom. "That's the hard part; at the end of the day, he's a human being."

Dutroux was also found guilty of involvement in the abduction of two eight-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, and his former wife and co-defendant, Michelle Martin, was convicted of imprisonment leading to their deaths.

The girls starved to death in their basement while Dutroux was in jail for car theft. Martin said that she was afraid to go downstairs to feed them.

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