Belgian who aided child abuse starts convent life

The screaming, insults and scuffles that accompanied the nighttime arrival of one of Belgium's most despised criminals at a bucolic convent have abated.

A local legislator who suggested in a Tweet that Michelle Martin, the woman who let two 8-year-old girls starve to death in a cellar and helped her pedophile husband carry out horrific abuse 16 years ago, should be "taken down," said on Wednesday that his comment should not be taken seriously.

And political talk is centering on how to toughen the conditions for early release in Belgium to avoid having a criminal like Martin walk free after serving only 16 years of her 30-year sentence.

Meanwhile, Martin started her first day at the Clarisse convent in the village of Malonne on Wednesday. She will have to work for 20 hours a week to compensate for her living costs as she seeks, in the words of her lawyer, atonement for her crimes.

After an eventful arrival Tuesday night, police remained on guard outside the convent on Wednesday. The masses of journalists jockeying for a glimpse of Martin started dwindling.

As the car carrying her sought its way through Malonne late Tuesday, some stones were thrown and the vehicle was kicked.

"To go through this on the very day with such violence, I think it left an impression on her," said Martin's lawyer, Thierry Moreau. He said he hopes a time will come, once the furor has died down, when Martin will be fully reintegrated into society.

"There is the possible question to integrate her into the life of Malonne, and think what she could do to find work," Moreau said. "But it will be very difficult. You need someone to give her employment."

The memory of her crimes is still too vivid for that.

She was first the mistress and later the wife of Marc Dutroux, who horrified the nation with his crimes during the mid-1990s. He was convicted 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 were found alive in his basement a few days after his arrest.

Martin was convicted of conspiracy in the kidnappings and imprisonment leading to the deaths of the two starved girls, who were held in a secret dungeon specially built in a cellar. Martin said she had been too scared to go into the cellar to feed them while Dutroux was serving a four-month jail term for car theft.

Such were her crimes, that regional legislator Jurgen Verstrepen called in a Tweet message late Tuesday for her to be "taken down ... candidates?" On Wednesday he said the Tweet lacked a smiley face at the end, and "for some this is necessary to show irony."

The prospect of her release had spawned demonstrations in the past few weeks, with demands to keep her in jail. On Wednesday, under sunny skies, there still were police around the convent but all appeared calm.