Europe

Belgian skydiver convicted of murdering love rival

Els Clottemans reacts as as she hears the verdict of the jury
Image caption Els Clottemans strongly denied all the charges

A Belgian woman has been found guilty of murdering her love rival by sabotaging her parachute on a sky dive four years ago.

Els Clottemans, 26, was convicted after a four-week trial that gripped Belgium.

A jury heard how she cut through key parts of the parachutes of Els Van Doren, 38, because she was jealous of her relationship with a male skydiver.

Ms Van Doren fell 1,000m (3,200 ft) to her death in November 2006. Clottemans denied the charges.

Judge Michel Jordans said at the end of the trial in the north-eastern Flemish town of Tongeren (French: Tongres) that Clottemans would be sentenced in a separate hearing on Thursday.

She could now face life in prison.

No forensic evidence

Judge Jordans said that the 12-member jury replied "Yes" to the question of Clottemans' guilt and as to whether the crime was premeditated.

The evidence against her was mainly circumstantial, the BBC's Jonty Bloom in Brussels reports.

Image caption Els Van Doren was 38 at the time of her death

It rested on the fact that Clottemans had the opportunity and skill to sabotage Ms Van Doren's parachute and a motive because she wanted to remove a rival for the affections of Marcel Somers - the man both women had a relationship with.

No forensic evidence linked Clottemans to the crime and she strongly denied the charge.

Ms Van Doren died on 18 November 2006, crashing into a garden in the village of Opglabbeek after both of her parachutes failed to open.

Her fall was captured by her own helmet video camera, which only stopped recording at the moment of impact.

She had jumped over the Zwartberg area at 4,000m (13,000 ft) along with Marcel Somers and a second man from a Cessna plane. All three were experienced parachutists.

The three took each other's hands for a formation free fall they had rehearsed on the ground earlier along with Clottemans. But Clottemans missed them, having jumped a fraction too late.

Image caption A parachute bag was used as evidence in court

Clottemans was reportedly able to watch as her three fellow jumpers separated at 1,000m to open their parachutes, with Ms Van Doren trying in vain to activate hers.

"Els tried to do everything to try to save herself," Luc Deijgers, who piloted the Cessna plane, told Belgian TV.

"She tried to open the reserve parachute but it wouldn't open. That never happens."

After establishing that the victim's cords had been cut, police arrested Clottemans in January 2007.

Investigators piecing together the events leading up to the death believe Ms Clottemans wrote an anonymous letter and made anonymous phone calls to Ms Van Doren.

Laying out details of the love triangle during the trial, prosecutor Patrick Boyen said that Mr Somers had entertained Ms Van Doren, a married mother of two, most Saturdays while often seeing Clottemans on Fridays.

Mr Somers later reportedly tried to "shake off" Clottemans.

A week before the fatal jump, the two women spent the night in his flat, Ms Van Doren sharing his bed while Clottemans slept on a mattress or sofa.

Clottemans would have had the opportunity of sabotaging the other woman's parachutes, which were in the flat at the time, prosecutors said.

Experts said it would have taken just 30 seconds to do so with scissors.

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