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Belgium: Dutroux guilty of child rape and murder

Publish Date: 17 Jun 2004

Source: CNN with contribution from Associated Press

Dutroux guilty of child murder

ARLON, Belgium (CNN) -- A Belgian jury has found Marc Dutroux guilty of child rape and murder in a case that has horrified the country for almost a decade.

The jury convicted Dutroux, his former wife and another co-defendant of kidnapping and repeatedly raping six girls during the mid-1990s.

Jurors also found Dutroux guilty of murdering two of four girls who died after being sexually assaulted and tortured as captives in his house.

The jury said he drugged the two teenagers and then buried them alive.

Dutroux also was found guilty of murdering an alleged accomplice in the case.

Dutroux's ex-wife, Michele Martin, was found guilty in the murders of two 8-year-old girls who starved to death in her custody.

According to evidence in the case, Dutroux kidnapped the two girls, but they died under Martin's care in Dutroux's house while he was in prison on a lesser charge.

Co-defendant Michel Lelievere was convicted on the main charges of kidnapping, rape and murder.

But judges acquitted co-defendant Michel Nihoul of kidnapping after the jury disagreed on the role he played in the plot. He was convicted of smuggling drugs and people into Belgium.

The defendants, who were not in court for the initial reading of the verdicts, filed into the courtroom to hear the final verdicts -- guilty on nearly 243 main charges and not guilty on several lesser charges.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated three days before the chief juror announced the verdicts in a crowded courtroom on Thursday.

Sentencing is expected to begin next week.

Dutroux, a 47-year-old former electrician, had pleaded guilty to rape and kidnapping but denied murder. He insisted that he was part of a wider pedophilia ring that also involved police officers.

In announcing the verdicts, the jury rejected that argument.

In a final courtroom appeal last week, Dutroux expressed "sincere regret" for what he did. But he told the court: "I am not a murderer."

Nevertheless, Dutroux said he bore responsibility for the four girls who died because he "did not protect them enough."

Dutroux faces life in prison, Martin and Lelievere up to 30 years, and Nihoul up to 10 years, The Associated Press reported. The country does not have capital punishment.

Relatives leaving the courtroom said they were satisfied with the verdicts.

"They are guilty of everything, even the killings, even the torture," Paul Marchal, father of one victim, told RTBF television.

"This has confirmed what I thought: They worked together," said Louisa Lejeune, mother of one of the victims. "The recognition of this is a relief."

All the bodies were discovered on Dutroux's properties after his arrest in August 1996.

The two surviving victims, Laetitia Delhez, then 14, and Sabine Dardenne, then 12, were rescued from a basement prison in his house and testified against Dutroux at the trial.

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

A parliamentary inquiry conducted in the late 1990s found that Belgian police ineptly investigated the small gang of offenders and that the deaths might have been prevented had the police done a better job.

Police searched Dutroux's home at one point but failed to find the basement prison.

In another instance, upon investigating sounds from the house, police failed to search it because Dutroux -- already a convicted child offender -- told them the sounds were children on the street.

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

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers said Belgians were appalled by the "heinous nature of the crimes" and the "ham-handedness of the investigation."

The authorities "at one point allowed Marc Dutroux to escape; additionally rival police investigations concealed evidence," Rodgers said.

"Lastly, and most troubling, is evidence from Dutroux and his accomplices that they are part of a larger network of European pedophiles which they allege goes into the higher echelons of the Belgian police and government."

© 2004 CNN