In this March 3, 2004 file photo, accused Michelle Martin, ex-wife of convicted rapist Marc Dutroux, attends a hearing at the Palace of Justice in Arlon, South East Belgium. Belgium's highest court on Tuesday Aug. 28 2012 granted 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. Martin can leave prison under strict conditions after serving more than half of her sentence, and will work in a Belgian convent. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, file)
BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's highest court granted conditional early release Tuesday 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 ruled that no procedural errors were made by a lower court, which is allowing Michelle Martin to live in a convent after serving barely half her 30-year sentence for her part in the mid-1990s kidnappings, rapes and killings by her then-husband, Marc Dutroux.
"The court rejects the appeals," Judge Albert Fettweis said of motions by the prosecutor's office and some families of the victims.
It was unclear when Martin would leave the prison but security forces were already preparing for her arrival in Malonne, a verdant village in the hills 75 kilometers (45 miles) south of the capital, Brussels. There she will live in a Clarisse convent and, in the words of her lawyer, seek atonement for her crimes.
"There is only one word for this. This is simply absurd. But I will have to accept it," said Paul Marchal, whose daughter An was one of the victims of Dutroux. "Concerning Martin, my fight is over and done. I lost."
The lawyer for Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose 8-year-old daughter Julie was one of the girls who starved to death, said the families would work to change the law and make sure victims get a bigger say.
"We will first have to ask the politicians to change the law and, secondly, we will have to go to Strasbourg," where the European Court of Human Rights can still have an impact, said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier.
That process could take years, however.
In the meantime, several policemen were stationed near the convent even before the verdict was announced and fluorescent graffiti near the convent protesting Martin's arrival was removed. At a religious statue near the gate, teddy bears sat next to a picture of the two eight-year-old girls who starved to death in Dutroux's dungeon in 1996.
"Shame on the sisters," one poster said, referring to the nuns who were willing to take Martin in.
Martin has depicted herself as a passive culprit of the psychopath Dutroux. But she is still blamed for aiding her husband as he went on a depraved and murderous spree, and she is particularly loathed for letting the two girls starve while Dutroux was imprisoned.
Dutroux, 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 last two of Dutroux's 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. "She paid the price for it. She did it in respect of the law, and now there is this project where she wants to redeem herself and this will be another way to do her sentence."
The prospect of Martin's release had spawned demonstrations over the past weeks, with demands to keep her in jail.
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