Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belgian skydiver who killed love rival to be sentenced

Els Clottemans denied all the charges

A Belgian woman convicted of murdering her fellow skydiver and love rival by sabotaging her parachute is due to be sentenced. Els Clottemans, aged 26, faces between three years and life in prison. On Wednesday, a jury heard how she cut 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 (3,200ft) to her death in November 2006. Clottemans denied the charges. The four-week trial in the north-eastern Flemish town of Tongeren (French: Tongres) gripped the nation.The guilty verdict was announced by Judge Michel Jordans on Wednesday. He said the 12-member jury replied "Yes" to the question of Clottemans' guilt and as to whether the crime was premeditated. However, the evidence against her was mainly circumstantial, the BBC's Jonty Bloom in Brussels reports.

Els Van Doren (undated photo)
  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 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 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 freefall they had rehearsed on the ground earlier along with Clottemans. But Clottemans missed them, having jumped a fraction too late. 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. 

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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