TONGEREN, Belgium (Reuters) – A Belgian woman went on trial on Friday charged with the murder of a fellow skydiver and love rival who plunged to her death after her parachute was sabotaged.
Els Van Doren, 38, smashed into a back garden from some 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) in November 2006 because both her main and reserve chutes failed to open after she jumped from a plane with defendant, Els Clottemans, 26, their lover, Dutchman Marcel Somers, and another man.
Clottemans, an elementary school teacher, is accused of cutting through key parts of the parachute system the weekend before the jump to remove her rival and have Somers for herself.
Lawyers for Clottemans, who herself only spoke in court to confirm basic details such as her date of birth and profession, issued a statement expressing their firm belief that their client did not kill a woman she regarded as a friend.
In a red top and black trousers and flanked by two police officers, Clottemans showed no emotion as Prosecutor Patrick Boyen read the 68-page indictment.
Interest in the case was so great that a live television feed was laid on in a larger room in the courthouse in Tongeren, a town in eastern Belgium. Several police guarded the entrance.
Laying out details of the love triangle, Boyen said that bachelor Somers entertained Van Doren, a married mother of two, most Saturdays and the younger Clottemans often on Fridays.
Boyen said Clottemans was an experienced skydiver and would have known how to sabotage a parachute and that she had the opportunity to do so when she and Van Doren were with Somers a week before the fatal drop.
Van Doren’s pilot chute, a small parachute deployed to pull the main chute out, was detached from that, while a line that should have connected the reserve chute to the harness was free.
Experts ruled that both items had been deliberately cut and that it could been done in just 30 seconds with scissors.
Psychiatric experts have identified signs that Clottemans suffers from a psychopathic disorder.
Clottemans’ lawyers say that is no hard evidence against their client, whom they say investigators intimidated and belittled in hours of questioning.
“She was continually accused of lying by investigators. The investigators had formed their own version of the truth and were no longer prepared to deviate from that.”
The trial, which is likely to feature video of the fall shot from a camera on Van Doren’s helmet, is due to last four weeks.