A jury convicted a former electrician Thursday in a series of child abductions, rapes and murders in a case that horrified Belgium for nearly a decade and led to judicial and police reforms.
The 12-member jury found Marc Dutroux, a 47-year-old ex-convict, guilty of abducting six girls in 1995-96 and of killing two of the girls and an accomplice.
His ex-wife, Michelle Martin, was found to be responsible for the deaths of two others — two 8-year-olds who were the first to disappear.
According to testimony, the two starved to death while imprisoned in a basement cell in his house while Dutroux served a short jail term for car theft. Martin testified she was too afraid to go downstairs to feed the two girls.
The last victims, Sabine Dardenne, then 12, and Laetitia Delhez, then 14 — were rescued from the basement prison two days after Dutroux’s Aug. 13, 1996, arrest.
Both delivered emotional testimony during the 3½ month trial, staring Dutroux in the eye and asking him why he did what he did. Dutroux, who sat in the dock behind bulletproof glass, did not respond.
In his final statement to the court, he expressed regret but did not apologize.
Dutroux, who now faces life in prison, was out on parole at the time of the crimes after serving a prison sentence for raping young girls in the 1980s.
That revelation stirred national outrage, along with tales of official bungling during the search for the missing girls and even after the arrests.
Dutroux also briefly escaped from jail in 1998 — prompting the resignation of the Belgian justice and interior ministers as well as the chief of the state police force. The case was directly responsible for improvements in child protection laws in Belgium and reforms of the judiciary and police.
In all, Dutroux and his three co-defendants were tried on 243 counts. Belgian TV stations broadcast the verdict live from outside the courthouse in this southeastern city.
One alleged accomplice, Michel Lelievre, was convicted of complicity in the kidnappings and other charges.
The final co-defendant, Michel Nihoul, was convicted of being part of a gang that smuggled drugs and people into Belgium.
But the jury issued a split verdict on whether Nihoul was involved in the kidnapping. The judges overturned the split verdict and asked jury back to consider a lesser charge that he was an accomplice to the kidnappings. The jury later acquitted Nahul of that charge.
Relatives leaving the courtroom expressed satisfaction with the verdicts.
“They are guilty of everything, even the killings, even the torture,” Paul Marchal, father of An Marchal, told RTBF television.
“This has confirmed what I thought: They worked together,” said Louisa Lejeune, mother of one of the 8-year-old victims. “The recognition of this is a relief.”
Dutroux and the three other defendants were not inside the courtroom while the jury was being polled but were to be brought in afterward when the decision is announced by the court.
All will be given an opportunity to address the court, after which the jury and three judges will deliberate together on sentencing.
Dutroux admitted to kidnapping and sexually abusing the two girls who were eventually rescued.
But he denied killing An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, as well as alleged accomplice Bernard Weinstein.
He also denied involvement in the kidnapping and deaths of the two 8-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo. He was convicted in involvement in their kidnapping.
Martin apologized to the court for not feeding Julie and Melissa while Dutroux was in jail for four months for car theft. Lelievre admitted kidnapping but not raping or killing Marchal and Lambrecks, while Nihoul denied involvement in the kidnappings.
Dutroux sought to paint himself as the pawn of a supposed crime ring that was kidnapping young girls in eastern Europe to become prostitutes — a scenario rejected by prosecutors, who said they found no evidence. Dutroux accused Nihoul of being his link to the syndicate, a charge Nihoul denied.
Martin and Lelievre face possible maximum 30-year sentences and Nihoul 20 years.
In Belgium, no appeal of a jury verdict is possible, except on procedural grounds. In that case, the supreme court reviews the verdict.