A jealous schoolteacher was found guilty of murder yesterday for sabotaging the parachute of a rival in a love triangle, causing her to fall to her death.
The verdict against Els Clottemans, 26, ended a month-long trial which revealed no hard evidence that she had sabotaged Els Van Doren's parachute during a jump over eastern Belgium on 18 November 2006.
Mrs Van Doren, then 38, jumped that day – with 11 other parachutists, including Clottemans – from a small plane flying at 30,000 feet.
The 12 jurors agreed with the prosecution that the evidence was circumstantial, but overwhelming.
They agreed that jealousy was a motive: the killer and her victim were intimately involved with the same man, a Dutch skydiver, whom Clottemans wanted for herself. She and Mrs Van Doren were members of the same parachute club.
During the trial, the jury was told that Clottemans, an accomplished skydiver, knew how to disable a parachute. Evidence showed that she also sent anonymous letters about Mrs Van Doren's love life to mutual friends and is psychologically unstable, having attempted suicide in December 2006. Clottemans faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Her trial began on 24 September with the accused sitting nervously near the mud-caked parachute bag and helmet that Mrs Van Doren wore on the day she died. The jury saw video footage Mrs Van Doren had shot during what would be her last jump.
She and Clottemans were among the last four jumpers to leave the Cessna plane.
The video, shot by Mrs Van Doren's helmet-mounted camera, showed how the victim looked up, yanking at her gear, hoping to see a canopy above her. It did not open and she eventually crashed into a garden in Opglabbeek, a small town in eastern Belgium and died instantly.
Neither her parachute, nor a smaller safety chute designed to open the main parachute in case of a malfunction, opened. Investigators testified that the gear had been tampered with.
Throughout her trial, Clottemans maintained her innocence.
On the last day in court, she told the jury: "For four years now I have been accused of something I did not do. That does something to you... They questioned me (saying) 'It's you! It's you!' But it is not me!'"