Kim De Gelder, found guilty of an attack on a crèche in Sint-Gillis-Dendermonde in which four people were killed and 25 more attacked in a frenzy, and for no apparent reason, is to be transferred from prison to a psychiatric unit.
He was tried in Ghent in 2013 and found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. The jury found that he was competent to stand trial, and had not at the time of the attacks in 2009 been mentally disturbed.
But in the intervening years, De Gelder’s behaviour has tended to reinforce the argument for mental illness – as though a knife attack on babies were not suggestion enough.
His lawyer, Jaak Haentjens, as well as his parents, have made it a crusade to have De Gelder transferred from Ghent prison to the Forensic Psychiatric Centre in Antwerp, which is reserved for patients with criminal charges or interned on the order of a court.
For Haentjens, the decision is the recognition of the court’s error. “It’s a shame it took so long to realise that my client doesn’t belong in prison,” he said. “I wonder if irreversible damage has not been done as a result.”
Since his initial sentencing, the court heard, his condition in prison has grown rapidly more serious. If that is the case, his eventual release may now be a merely theoretical possibility.
An FPC is not a prison and operates according to different rules. Unless clear progress is made by the patient, there is no tariff on sentencing, and it is entirely possible to spend the rest of their lives inside under lock and key.
The final decision on the move was taken last Wednesday, after De Gelder had sat on a waiting list for a place at Antwerp FPC for more than a year. Should he show sufficient progress while interned, he will be returned to prison to complete his sentence.