A neurosurgeon who was found guilty of the murder of her 14-year-old daughter walked free from prison this morning after receiving a five-year suspended sentence yesterday from a court in Leuven. Mehrnaz Didgar, aged 51, never denied causing the girl’s death at their home in July 2017. She admitted putting a plastic bag over her daughter Eline’s head and suffocating her. It took the girl 15 minutes to die, she told the court with medical precision.
Addressing the jury just before they retired to consider their verdict, she said, “I ask nothing of the jury. I take full responsibility and will accept their decision. I have told the truth from my first interview. I have behaved correctly, and that is important to me. I can look at myself in the mirror. I have behaved properly, and for me that is more important that whatever may eventually happen to me.”
The prosecution had called for a sentence of 26 years, after the jury returned a verdict of homicide with the aggravating factor of premeditation. They had heard how Didgar had written down the preparations for her daughter’s funeral, had prepared the material she would use, and had brought a tranquilliser from the Leuven university hospital where she worked.
However the prosecution did offer two mitigating factors which reduced the sentence demanded from the usual life imprisonment: her job and its contribution to society, and her lack of a criminal record.
The defence, led by star trial lawyer Jef Vermassen, argued for a five-year suspended sentence, on the grounds of Didgar’s clean record and display of remorse. She had acted, he said, under the irresistible force of her depression.
In the text in which the jury lays out its motivation for its judgement, was written, “A depressive condition undoubtedly influenced her dramatic decision, but her capacity for judgement was not affected”.
Nevertheless, even while recognising fully her guilt, the jury sided with Vermassen, and agreed she had not been able to act otherwise. Her sentence is suspended as long as she keeps to certain conditions, including attending psychological counselling. She was returned to Hasselt prison, from where she was released this morning.