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Woman who disabled rival's parachute found guilty

A jury has a 26-year-old schoolteacher who killed a love rival by sabotaging her parachute guilty of murder.
Image: Belgian Els Clottemans listens to the verdict at the end of her trial at a court in the town of Tongeren
Els Clottemans listens to the verdict at the end of her trial at a court in the town of Tongeren on Oct. 20. Clottemans, 26, was found guilty of tampering with the parachute of her friend and alleged love rival, Els Van Doren, which resulted in Van Doren plunging some 15,000 feet to her death, in November 2006. Yves Herman / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A jealous schoolteacher was found guilty of murder Wednesday for sabotaging the parachute of a rival in a love triangle, causing her to crash to her death.

The verdict against Els Clottemans, 26, ended a monthlong trial that revealed no hard proof that she had sabotaged Els Van Doren's parachute so that neither it nor a safety chute opened during a Nov. 18, 2006, jump over eastern Belgium.

Van Doren, then 38, jumped that day — with 11 other parachutists, including Clottemans — from a small plane flying at 4,500 meters (30,000 feet).

The 12 jurors agreed with the prosecution that the evidence was circumstantial, but overwhelming.

They agreed that jealousy was a motive: The killer and her victim were intimately involved with the same a man, a Dutch skydiver, whom Clottemans wanted for herself.

She and Van Doren were members of the same parachute club.

During the trial, the jury was told that Clottemans, an accomplished skydiver, knew very well how to disable a parachute.

Evidence showed she also sent anonymous letters about Van Doren's love life to mutual friends and is psychologically unstable, having attempted suicide in December, 2006.

Sentencing is set for Thursday. Clottemans faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Her trial opened Sept. 24 with the accused sitting nervously near the mud-caked parachute bag and helmet that Els Van Doren wore on the day she died.

The jury saw video footage Van Doren had shot during what would be her last jump.

She and Clottemans were among the last four jumpers to leave the Cessna plane.

The video, shot by Van Doren's helmet-mounted camera, showed how the victim looked up, yanking at her gear, hoping to see an open canopy above her.

It never happened.

She crashed into a garden in Opglabbeek, a small town in eastern Belgium and was killed instantly.

Neither her parachute, nor a smaller safety chute designed to open the main parachute in case of a malfunction, opened. Investigators testified the gear had been tampered with.

Throughout her trial, Clottemans maintained her innocence.

On the last day in court, she told the jury, "For four years now I have been accused of something I did not do. That does something to you. ... They questioned me (saying) 'It's you! 'It's you!' But it is not me!"

The victim's son and daughter, 17 and 19 respectively, left the courtroom in tears after Clottemans pleaded for clemency saying she had lost her father at a young age.