BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's highest court considered Tuesday whether to grant conditional early release to one of the nation's most despised criminals, the accomplice and former wife of a pedophile and child killer, even though she let two of his victims starve to death.
The Court of Cassation can only rule on procedural issues in the decision by a lower court to allow Michelle Martin to live in a convent after serving barely half of her 30-year sentence for her part in the mid-1990s kidnappings, rapes and killings by her then-husband, Marc Dutroux.
The overwhelming expectation is that Martin will be granted her freedom, especially after the legal adviser to the court said he had seen no procedural infringements meriting a revision of the earlier decision.
Even some of the parents of Dutroux's and Martin's victims have lost hope that Martin will be denied release.
"No. Honestly, no," said Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose 8-year-old daughter Julie was one of the girls who starved to death, when asked he had hope the decision would be reversed. He said he was convinced the full court would follow the advice of the advocate general.
Away from the Court of Cassation, where arguments were heard from both sides in an ornate, wood-paneled room lit by gilded chandeliers, security forces are already preparing Martin's arrival in Mallone, the verdant village in the hills 75 kilometers (45 miles) south of the capital, where the Clarisse convent is waiting to host her.
A few policemen were already stationed close to the convent but apart from the comings and goings of locals, little was happening.
Next to the convent, fluorescent graffiti protesting Martin's possible arrival was removed. At a religious statue near the gate, two teddy bears still sat next to a picture of the two eight-year-olds who starved to death in Dutroux's dungeon in 1996.
"Shame on the sisters," one billboard said, in reference to the nuns who are willing to take Martin in.
Martin depicted herself as a more passive culprit than Dutroux, someone who was acting on the whims of a psychopath. But she is still blamed for aiding her then-husband's depraved and murderous spree, and she is particularly loathed for letting two 8-year-old girls starve to death while Dutroux was briefly imprisoned.
Dutroux, who was an unemployed electrician and convicted pedophile on parole at the time of the crimes, was arrested in 1996 and convicted eight years later of abducting, imprisoning and raping six girls between the summers of 1995 and 1996. He was also found guilty of murdering two of the six girls, who ranged in age from 8 to 19 years old.
The two 8-year-olds starved to death in a secret basement dungeon built by Dutroux, who left them in Martin's care while he was serving four months in jail for theft. The last two kidnap victims came out alive after police took action.
Martin's lawyer, Thierry Moreau, insisted his client deserved a shot at a better life.
"There is something human remaining in Mrs. Martin even though she acknowledges herself she is responsible for very serious acts," Moreau said.
Talk of her possible release has already spawned demonstrations demanding to keep her in jail.