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Belgium’s oldest murder defendant gets ten years

Clara Maes is led into court for her murder trial. © Belga

A court in Luxembourg province has found an 89-year-old woman guilty of murder, and sentenced her to 10 years in prison.

Clara Maes was accused of the murder in January 2015 of her neighbour and close friend Suzanne Thibeau, aged 93. Thibeau was found dead in her home, lying in a pool of blood, by two other friends.

Suspicion soon turned in the direction of Maes, who admitted to having paid her neighbour a visit the same morning. She regularly did so, she explained, to help her older friend with household tasks.

Finally she was charged in July 2015, but she was never imprisoned because of her advanced age and the fact that she did not represent a flight risk.

The prosecution based its case on a will drawn up by Thibeau, which it was argued was generous to Maes – a possible motive for murder. According to the prosecution, Maes when interviewed had shown an unusually detailed knowledge of Thibeau’s private affairs, and yet claimed memory lapses when questioned on other delicate matters.

The defence argued for an acquittal, but the jury was swung by evidence such as the frequent disputes between the two neighbours, and the presence of DNA from the victim in Maes’ car, from a source that could not have been innocent, such as blood. In addition, clothing she had handed over to the police, which she said she had been wearing the last time she had seen Thibeau, were found not to have been worn since the last time they were washed.

After she was convicted, the defence asked for a sentence of five years suspended, arguing that Maes, now confined to a nursing home, was neither a flight risk nor a threat to society. In her condition, counsel Alexandre Mignon pointed out, locking her up in prison would be impossible.

The prosecution, on the other hand, called for a sentence of not less than 10 years without suspension. “Our society cannot be seen to tolerate murder,” said advocate-general Anne-Sophie Guilmot during the penalty phase.

The jury – who take part in the deliberations on sentencing, along with the lead judge, in the Belgian system – agreed, and Maes was sentenced to 10 years.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times