PEDOPHILE CASE JUDGE BREAKS DOWN IN COURT
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
March 6, 2004
Jean-Marc Connerotte, who gave evidence in the Dutroux trial. Picture: AFP
The Belgian judge who saved two young girls from Marc Dutroux's pedophile dungeon has broken down in the witness box, alleging high-level murder plots to stop his investigation into a child-sex mafia.
Jean-Marc Connerotte was in tears on the fourth day of the trial on Thursday, describing the bullet-proof vehicles and armed guards needed to protect him against shadowy figures determined to stop the full truth coming out.
"Never before in Belgium has an investigating judge at the service of the king been subjected to such pressure," he said.
"We were told by police that (murder) contracts had been taken out against the magistrates. As the danger mounted, emergency measures were taken." He then froze in silence and the court was adjourned until he recovered.
He said "organized crime methods" were used to discredit his work and ensure his inquiries ended in "judicial failure".
A hero to millions of Belgians, Judge Connerotte was removed from the Dutroux case after he had dinner with families of the victims in October 1996: this was deemed a conflict of interest.
The move resulted in workers going on strike and 300,000 people marching silently through Brussels in protest.
Seven years later, some of the families are boycotting the trial, describing it as a circus and saying the inquiry effectively shut down the moment Judge Connerotte left.
Addressing the jury of 12 at the Arlon Palais de Justice, Judge Connerotte relived the moment in August 1996 when his team rescued Sabine Dardenne, 12, and Laetitia Delhez, 14, from the cage beneath Dutroux's house.
He said the girls recoiled into the cell when the heavy hidden door was pulled open, fearing that a pedophile "band" had come to get them.
As Dutroux coaxed them out, saying there was nothing to fear, they clutched on to him as their protector. Sabine had been held for 79 days, much of the time chained by the neck. Dutroux admitted this week he had raped her 20 times. He said the plan was to hand her over to the criminal network, but he kept her because he was "depressed".
Judge Connerotte said Dutroux displayed a "frightening professionalism" in designing the secret cells. "Clearly they were built so they couldn't be found," he said.
"He had installed a ventilation system so that the odors were extracted from above. The dogs couldn't smell the presence of the young girls."
He castigated local authorities for failing to take action much earlier. Dutroux had been named in police files in July 1995 as a suspect in the abduction of two eight-year-old girls more than a year before their bodies were found on Dutroux's land.
"The sum of 150,000 francs ($A6000) was mentioned as the price for girls. I was struck by the richness of these documents. Any magistrate should have acted the way I did later," he said.
The girls apparently starved to death in the dungeon while Dutroux was in prison.
In January 1996, Judge Connerotte wrote to King Albert alleging his investigations into crime networks were being blocked because suspects "apparently enjoyed serious protection".
He went on to say that the "dysfunctional judiciary" was breaking down as mafia groups took secret control of the "key institutions of the country".
CHILD RAPIST DENIES KIDNAP, MURDER CHARGES
March 4, 2004
Convicted child rapist Marc Dutroux denied kidnapping and killing two young girls found buried in his garden, saying he kept them in a dungeon to protect them from a child sex ring.
The Belgian took the stand yesterday on the third day of his trial for a string of gruesome pedophile murders in the mid-1990s that traumatized the nation and discredited its police and judiciary.
"I didn't want this to happen to them," the 47-year-old former electrician told the court under questioning by presiding judge Stephane Goux.
A convicted multiple child rapist, Dutroux is charged with the abduction and rape of six girls and the murder of four.
In testimony at times rambling and contradictory, he told the jury that all the crimes of which he was accused were carried out by a criminal gang based in the city of Charleroi, which had enjoyed "police and political protection".
The last two victims survived his arrest in 1996 and were found in a makeshift cell in a cellar to which he had built a concealed door in a house in Marcinelle, southern Belgium.
Dutroux denied any involvement in the kidnapping and death of eight-year-olds Julie and Melissa, the first two girls to be abducted in July 1995, telling the court he had found them at his home with his wife and two other men - Michel Nihoul and Bernard Weinstein.
Asked by the judge why he had built the trap door to the cell, in which the girls were held for months, he said: "I wanted to create a hiding place to spare them from being sent to a prostitution ring."
He accused co-defendant Nihoul, as well as Weinstein, a Frenchman found buried in Dutroux's garden in 1996, of planning to use the children for prostitution.
"When I learned from Bernard Weinstein that it was for pedophilia, I didn't even know what pedophilia was. It was all Chinese to me," Dutroux told the court.
Asked why he had not denounced his accomplices sooner, he said: "I didn't want to endanger my family."
He spoke about his childhood and career, depicting himself as the victim of an authoritarian mother.
Asked why he had changed his testimony so often during nearly seven years in custody, he said it was to protect his ex-wife, Michelle Martin, on trial with him.
"My statements were full of lies," he said, while insisting that this time he would tell "the whole truth".
Dutroux had sought to fan conspiracy theories that he was just a cog in a bigger machine by telling VTM Flemish television on the eve of the trial that he was a scapegoat for a mafia network involved in trafficking children.
Defence lawyers, outlining their case, evoked satanic cults, mysteriously deceased witnesses and forensic evidence of the presence of other people in Dutroux's cells as evidence that their client was not a "lone pervert".
The prosecution says investigators have found no evidence of such a wider conspiracy, although a parallel probe into the allegations is continuing.
Lawyers for the victims called the defence strategy a "smokescreen" and appealed to Dutroux to tell the truth about crimes that Belgians have struggled to comprehend.
The trial is expected to last at least two months. Dutroux, who was jailed in 1989 for a series of violent rapes, including on minors, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In their indictment, prosecutors described Dutroux as a manipulator who saw himself as a victim of a hateful society.
"In his mind, all social rules are perfectly recognized, but they are either rejected as being unacceptably constraining, or used for his own benefit," the indictment said.
Link to this article: http://www.rwnicholson.com/Marc%20Dutroux-Belgium.htm