Dutroux's ex-wife to be freed, sent to Belgian convent

MONS, Belgium Tue Jul 31, 2012 7:00am EDT

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MONS, Belgium (Reuters) - The ex-wife and accomplice of Marc Dutroux, the convicted child murderer whose crimes horrified and shocked Belgium in the mid-1990s, is to be released from prison and sent to a convent, a court ruled on Tuesday.

Dutroux was arrested in 1996 and later found guilty of kidnapping and raping six girls. He killed two of them and left two others to starve to death in a makeshift dungeon.

His former wife, Michelle Martin, has been behind bars since 1996 and has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for her part in helping Dutroux.

Having served half of her term, Martin has been cleared for conditional release, and on Tuesday a court in the southern Belgian city of Mons accepted a plan to house her in a convent.

Martin's lawyer, Thierry Moreau, told reporters after the hearing that his client was likely to be released in about two weeks. He said she was a changed woman.

"I really think that the woman who comes out today is not the woman who went in 1996," Moreau said. "For Mrs Martin nothing has been erased and, as she says herself, her guilt will follow her to the grave."

The court ruled that Martin, who was not in court, could go to the Clarisse Convent in Malonne, a village 60 km (37 miles) southeast of the Belgian capital, Brussels.

This was her fifth legal bid to be released from prison, although prosecutors could launch an appeal.

The Dutroux crimes have haunted Belgium, an overwhelmingly Catholic and socially conservative nation, for years, leading authorities to take measures to improve the safety of children.

The crimes also raised questions about the negligence of police and possible complicity of justice authorities.

In 1996, 300,000 people dressed in white, the color of innocence, marched through Brussels to demand reforms of the political and judicial systems.

In a sign of how sensitive the case remains, about 93 percent of respondents to an online poll by broadcaster RTL said Martin was being released too early.

(Reporting by Ben Deighton, writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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