Parachute Murder

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The Parachute murder is a name the Belgian media gave the 2010 Belgian love triangle skydiving murder trial. The defendant, elementary school teacher and amateur skydiver Els 'Babs' Clottemans, was found guilty of murder by sabotaging the parachutes of another woman, fellow skydiver Els Van Doren, because Van Doren was a rival for the love of Marcel Somers, also a skydiver. The skydive in which Van Doren died occurred on November 18, 2006. Van Doren, who was a 38 years old married mother of two and a very experienced skydiver, died when both her primary and reserve parachutes failed to deploy. The dive was captured by a video camera mounted on Van Doren's helmet.[1] Van Doren dropped from a height of over 2 miles (3.2 km) landing in a garden in the town of Opglabbeek.[2] Police later established that the cords of the parachute had been cut.[3]

The case was entirely circumstantial. Clottemans became a suspect when she attempted suicide just before she was going to give a second statement to police a month after the incident. Police later learned that both Van Doren and Clottemans had a sexual relationship with Somers. The prosecutors alleged that Clottemans had the opportunity to sabotage Van Doren's parachute the week before the fatal jump, when Clottemans, Van Doren, and Somers all spent the weekend at Somers' home, with Clottemans sleeping in the living room while the other two were in the bedroom. According to the allegation Clottemans would have had the opportunity to cut Van Doren's parachute's cables, as the parachute was in the apartment, and experts estimated that it would have taken no more than 30 seconds to have cut the cables with scissors.[3] While normally the three would jump together to create a formation, during the jump in question, Clottemans stayed on the plane a few extra seconds and watched Van Doren's dive from above.[2]

Investigators were not able to determine if Van Doren knew that Somers also had a relationship with Clottemans.[1] For her part, Clottemans told the Belgian media in 2007 that "[she] always knew that [she] was number two for Marcel and that Els was number one. [She] never had a problem with this at the time as [she] had such a low image of [her]self that [she] could only ever imagine being number two."[4]

Clottemans was charged and arrested in January 2007, but released on bail in 2008.[5] Her trial began on September 24, 2010 with jury selection and ended on October 20, 2010 with a conviction. Interest in the trial was so large, that "a room next to the courthouse had to be used for journalists to follow the proceedings through remote video."[6]

After the trial began, Clottemans, who maintained her innocence, was placed on suicide watch.[7] On October 21, 2010 Clottemans was sentenced to a 30 years imprisonment. In sentencing her to 30 years rather than life, the judge took "her feeble psychological condition" as extenuating circumstances.[8] Clottemans appealed the verdict on the ground that she was interrogated by police without the presence of her attorney. The appeal was denied in May 2011.[9]