Brussels - The notorious accomplice and ex-wife of paedophile serial killer Marc Dutroux won parole on Tuesday midway through her 30-year jail sentence - on condition she moved into a convent.
Loud cries of “Death” and “Protect our children” rang out as Belgium's “most-hated woman” arrived at the nunnery in the village of Malonne in southern Belgium at about 10.30pm (2030 GMT), an AFP correspondent witnessed.
Michelle Martin's car with frosted windows was met by a media scrum while a police perimeter kept about 50 local protesters several hundred metres back.
Hours earlier she was paroled by a five-man panel of judges who ruled inadmissible or unfounded appeals by victims' families and prosecutors against a July 31 regional court decision to award early release.
Dutroux and Martin are considered in Belgium in the way the 1960s Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, are remembered in England.
They were each arrested in 1996, and have been in custody ever since.
Dutroux was finally jailed for life in 2004 for the kidnap and rape between 1995 and 1996 of six young and teenage girls, and the murder of four of his victims.
Martin too was sentenced in 2004 for helping him hold the girls captive and for complicity in the deaths of two of them found starved to death in a locked cellar.
Former schoolteacher Martin, who married Dutroux in 1983 and had three children by him before they divorced in 2003, had already served time as did he in the early years of their marriage for previous kidnappings.
Martin is still Belgium's “most-hated woman”, said her lawyer Thierry Moreau, but “she wants to succeed in her resettlement... and wishes to repay her debt to society”.
Her fifth bid for parole succeeded on the condition that she “keeps her distance” from relatives of victims.
She will not become a nun, but will work in the convent. She will be allowed to move outside it, but cannot set foot in those areas where she lived with Dutroux.
She will have to appear if called by judicial authorities, or face the threat of a return to prison, and must continue with therapy undertaken behind bars, while avoiding all media contact.
She is additionally still to pay compensation awarded to their victims.
The initial decision by a regional court to free her provoked anger among victims' families, prompted demonstrations around the convent and triggered a debate in Belgium about full-term jail sentencing for crimes deemed the most serious.
A previous attempt to place Martin in a French convent fell foul of French authorities' fears over public order.
Following the court ruling, Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose daughter Julie was one of the girls Dutroux and Martin killed, insisted that “the fight goes on”.
Lejeune wants to ensure full-term sentencing, notably for crimes against children, and in an open letter to Martin urged her to tell the complete “truth” about the circumstances surrounding his daughter's death.
The families of Dutroux's victims fear that one day it may be Dutroux himself, currently 55, who walks free.
“He is convinced (that will happen) and believes that he too deserves a chance to be reintegrated into society,” Dutroux's lawyer Ronny Baudewijn said on Tuesday.
A sister at the convent, home to about a dozen elderly nuns, said at the time of the initial court decision that Martin was “a human being capable of the worst and the best”, and that the convent was betting on her showing her best side. - Sapa-AFP