Ex-wife of Belgian child killer cleared for early release

BRUSSELS Tue Aug 28, 2012 1:05pm EDT

1 of 5. Michelle Martin, ex-wife of convicted child rapist Marc Dutroux, is seen during her trial in Arlon in this March 4, 2004 file photograph. A Belgian court is to rule on an appeal against the early release of Michelle Martin who has served 16 years of her 30-year sentence on August 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Pool/Etienne Ansotte/Files

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The ex-wife and accomplice of Marc Dutroux, the child murderer whose crimes horrified Belgium in the 1990s, will be freed after serving half her jail term, a Belgian court ruled on Tuesday.

Belgium's highest appeal court dismissed a bid by prosecutors to overturn a lower court's decision last month to approve Michelle Martin's early release.

Martin's lawyer said she would be freed later on Tuesday. She is expected to move into a convent which has already been daubed with graffiti by angry protesters.

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

Martin failed to feed the girls while Dutroux was jailed for car theft. She was convicted of helping him and has now served 16 years of a 30 year sentence.

Presiding judge Albert Fettweis dismissed the appeal on Tuesday before a packed court. Under Belgian law, criminals can be freed after serving a third of their sentences, as long as they meet certain conditions.

Among the crowd in the court room earlier in the day was Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose daughter Julie was left to die in Dutroux's cellar.

Martin's lawyer, Thierry Moreau, later told reporters: "She will leave (prison) today, because if we detain her for longer than today, that would mean someone has committed another offence."

About 10 protesters stood outside the court hearing, two holding a banner reading "Hang Paedophiles".

Jaqueline Van-Wallendael, 56, a chip-shop employee who attended the hearing, said releasing Martin would be abhorrent.

"You steal an egg or some beef and you are condemned forever. She killed angels."

Hundreds took to the streets of Brussels earlier this month to protest against the release and demand tougher rules on freeing convicted criminals.

Martin is due to live in the convent in the village of Malonne, 60 km (37 miles) southeast of Brussels and just 30 km from the house where Dutroux kept the girls captive.

The Poor Clares nuns' convent, which has said it agreed to take her in the spirit of Christian forgiveness, is next to a nursery school and offers retreats and musical performances.

The mayor of Namur, which oversees Malonne, said late on Monday that he had no means to prevent Martin's arrival and police were already prepared to control protests.

(Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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