A self-confessed killer and his wife were convicted on Wednesday in one of the worst serial murder cases in recent French history.
A court found Michel Fourniret, 66, guilty of killing and raping or attempting to rape seven young women and girls. In a particularly severe sentence for a French court, he was given a life sentence and cannot be considered for parole for 30 years.
His wife, Monique Olivier, 59, was convicted of acting as an accomplice for five of the murders. She must serve at least 28 years of her prison term, the court said.
The verdict closes a two-month trial that riveted France and neighboring Belgium, where one of the victims was killed.
The young women aged 12 to 21 were either strangled, shot or stabbed with a screwdriver between 1987 and 2001 to feed what prosecutors called Fourniret's obsession for virgins.
Fourniret, who had admitted to his crimes and said he would not appeal, operated mostly in the heavily wooded Ardennes region of northern France and in Belgium.
Prosecutors contended that Olivier helped Fourniret track down virgins to feed his morbid fantasies. She was accused of helping him to select his victims, capture them and hide their bodies.
The lead prosecutor called Olivier "a witch," while Fourniret's court-appointed defense lawyer described him as "indefensible." Fourniret refused counsel and remained silent through most of the proceedings.
The emotionally-charged trial also raised serious questions over the functioning of France's judicial system.
The couple, linked by what prosecutors called a "criminal pact," became acquainted after Fourniret placed an advertisement for someone to write to while serving a prison sentence for sex crimes in the 1980s. He has a long history of rape.
A series of mishaps and lost opportunities to catch the criminals included the failure to launch an inquiry into the disappearance of the couple's first victim in 1987, Isabelle Laville, despite the police lodging a kidnap report.
At the time, Fourniret, who had just been released from prison and was technically on probation, was living just a few kilometers away from the place Laville disappeared.
"There was a lost opportunity to identify the Fournirets," said Alain Behr, a lawyer for Laville's family.
The system also failed to revoke a decision to discharge Fourniret following appearances for numerous offenses in the 1990s, allowing the couple to continue carrying out their crimes over 16 years.
Psychologists who examined the couple have said they were not insane and were slightly above average in intelligence. The specialists concluded that the self-obsessed, authoritative Fourniret took a sadistic pleasure in rape and murder.
Belgian police detained Fourniret in June 2003 after his bungled kidnapping of a 13-year-old girl. The girl gave authorities his license plate number after she managed to unbind her hands and escape from the back of Fourniret's van.
Belgium extradited wife Olivier to France in 2005, and Fourniret in 2006. Judicial officials in both countries decided the case should be tried in France because six of the victims were French citizens.
Investigators suspect Fourniret, who has been dubbed the "Ogre of the Ardennes", may also have been involved in several other murders.