Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Trial of confessed child killer begins Monday

REUTERS , BRUSSELS

The house of alleged Belgian child killer and rapist Marc Dutroux is pictured in Marcinelle on Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

Belgium's Public Enemy No. 1, self-confessed killer and child rapist Marc Dutroux, finally goes on trial next week, seven years after the crimes of which he is accused traumatized a nation.

Dutroux, 47, whose trial starts on Monday, faces charges of kidnapping and raping six young girls in makeshift cells in the basement of his house before killing four of them.

The Belgian legal system is rarely fast, and investigators had to sift through 400,000 pages of evidence and a vast number of apparently false leads.

Dutroux is expected to plead guilty on some counts but his lawyers plan to depict him as merely part of a wider pedophile ring. Prosecutors say they have no such evidence.

His wife, Michelle Martin, and two other suspects will also be in the dock on similar charges in the southeastern town of Arlon, near where the last of the crimes were committed in 1996.

The Dutroux case provoked a wave of public outrage and contributed to the defeat of former Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene's government in a 1999 general election.

Belgians were not only revolted by the crimes but also by police and judiciary bungling of the search for the girls, some of whom had been missing for a year.

The arrest of other suspects and the appearance of witnesses making sweeping accusations prompted conspiracy theories about a vast high-society child sex ring acting with impunity.

Claude Javeau, a sociologist at the Free University of Brussels, said Dutroux came to symbolize everything that was wrong with the Belgian state.

Dutroux has been in custody since his arrest in August 1996, when he led police to a house in the city of Charleroi, where his last captives -- 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne and Laetitia Delhez, 14 -- were found alive in the basement cells.

"I was his `lady,'" Dardenne said in a rare interview.

"That's what he would tell me," she said.

Dutroux later showed police where the bodies of four more girls and a suspected accomplice were buried in the backyard of two other houses.

Two of the victims, 8-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, had died of starvation in the cells.

Police had had Dutroux, a convicted child rapist, under surveillance, but never informed those searching for the girls.

They had searched his house and heard the girls' cries but failed to find the false door that hid the tiny cells.

Parliamentary inquiries later revealed a police and judiciary riven by rivalries that had conducted parallel probes.

This story has been viewed 3593 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top