About one year ago, retired doctor André Gyselbrecht was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his part in the murder of his son-in-law, Stijn Saelens.
Now, Gyselbrecht is applying for early release under house arrest, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.
Gyselbrecht was found guilty of ordering the murder of Saelens at his home in Wingene in West Flanders in January 2012. At the entrance to the manor-house were traces of a struggle. Saelens’ body was found buried in a shallow grave nearby 17 days later.
Gyselbrecht and his son were immediately suspected, given the troubled relationship the father had with his son-in-law. Saelens, a property developer, had expressed the intention to emigrate to Australia, taking with him his wife – Gyselbrecht’s daughter – and the couple’s children.
The land where Saelens was buried was close to the chalet occupied by one Pierre Serry, a local criminal and acquaintance of Gyselbrecht. Serry later accused Gyselbrecht of ordering the murder, which Serry arranged with the help of two hired Chechen killers. Gyselbrecht admitted his part in the attack, but swore he had only asked for Saelens to be beaten and held hostage for a while.
The actual murderer was later identified as the Dutchman Ronald van Bommel, who died of pancreatic cancer before the case could come to court.
When the case finally came to trial in May 2019, Gyselbrecht was sentenced to 27 years as accessory to the murder of Saelens. The sentence was reduced on appeal to 21 years. Serry was sentenced to 21 years reduced on appeal to 19 years.
Now, Gyselbrecht is applying for early release with an ankle bracelet, and the chances are reasonable that his application could be successful.
Under a Belgian law of 1888, a convicted criminal can apply for early release after serving one-third of their sentence. In the case of a repeat offenders, the bar goes up to two-thirds.
That only concerns an application, however. That is considered by the psychosocial department of the penitentiary authority, which issues an opinion.
The case then goes to the public prosecutor, which also issues an opinion. Together, the two opinions are sent to a special sentencing tribunal, which approves or denies the request. The views of the victim or victim’s family are also taken into account.
In this case, although Gyselbrecht was sentenced only one year ago, he had been in custody since 2012, and so has now served eight years of his sentence, since time spent on remand counts. In January this year he was allowed out on penitentiary leave for one weekend.
In addition, he has received a glowing report from the prison authorities who describe him as a model prisoner, who poses no threat to society. In addition, his lawyer has argued, he will occupy his time looking after his wife and offering help to those who need it.
If his application is accepted, he will most likely be under electronic surveillance, or a broader sort of house arrest not necessarily limited to his own home. Other conditions are applied, which if they are not respected, could lead the person to be returned to prison to complete their sentence as usual.