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Belgian convicted in rival's parachute death dive

TONGEREN, Belgium (Reuters) - A Belgian woman was convicted on Wednesday of murdering a fellow skydiver and love rival who plunged to her death four years ago after her parachute was sabotaged.

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Els Clottemans, 26, stood accused of cutting through key parts of the parachute system of 38-year-old Els Van Doren before the two jumped with their mutual lover, a Dutchman, and another man in November 2006.

Van Doren, married with two children, smashed into a back garden from some 4,500 m (15,000 feet) when her main and reserve chutes failed to open in the jump recorded by a video camera on her helmet.

Presiding Judge Michel Jordens read the verdict after the jury had deliberated for five hours over whether Clottemans had deliberately killed Van Doren and whether the act was premeditated. The response was “yes” on each count.

There was an audible gasp in court when the judgment was read, but Clottemans showed no obvious reaction.

Jordens will determine the sentence, which could be from three years to life in prison, on Thursday.

Prosecutors said Clottemans, an elementary school teacher, sabotaged the chutes the weekend before the jump to remove her rival and to have Dutchman Marcel Somers for herself.

Lawyers for Clottemans had said their client did not kill a woman she regarded as a friend even though they shared the same lover.

Interest in the case was so great that a television feed was laid on in a larger room in the courthouse in Tongeren, a town in eastern Belgium. One TV broadcaster showed the verdict live.

Prosecutor Patrick Boyen said Clottemans was an experienced skydiver and would have known how to sabotage a parachute and that she had the opportunity to do so when she and Van Doren were with Somers a week before the fatal jump.

Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Michael Roddy