Jean-Claude Lacote and Hilde Van Acker have been sentenced to 30 years and 24 years respectively for the murder in 1996 of British businessman Marcus Mitchell.
The two were arrested in Ivory Coast in 2019 and extradited to Belgium. But they had spent the intervening period on the run, in North and South America and in Africa. Most surprising of all, they had originally been arrested in Belgium as prime suspects in the Mitchell murder, but had been released after questioning.
The two became known as the diabolical couple, a reference to the 1955 French film Les Diaboliques, in which a man’s wife and mistress plot to murder him. Mitchell, however, was simply another victim of the pair’s crooked business techniques. When Mitchell figured out what was going on, he confronted the couple, and was shot twice in the face.
The jury trial in Bruges took very little time to come to its conclusion. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and in keeping with Belgian legal practice, then went on to consider with the chief magistrate the sentence to be handed down.
In the end, Lacote was sentenced to 30 years, and Van Acker to 24 years.
“The punishment that is being imposed on you is intended to give you something to look forward to,” the judge told Van Acker. The court had heard that she had been under the influence of Lecote, with whom she had a relationship for a time, and that he had been the driving force in the relationship and in the pair’s criminal activities.
He had also bought the gun, and used it to kill Mitchell.
The judge told him: “You have left a trail of human destruction. We know your punishment is very harsh and long, but no doubt there will be prospects for you to move on with your life too.”
The prosecutor expressed satisfaction at the sentences, and saw no reason for clemency.
“Extenuating circumstances must be earned. They are a favour that cannot be commanded in any way,” prosecutor Yves Segaert-Vanden Bussche said.
According to him, the attitude of the two accused did not play in their favour.
“The chilling cold-bloodedness, the cynicism, the total lack of any kind of pity or compassion. The bluff with which they tried to get free again. I see no extenuating circumstances in their attitude,” he said.
“Society has every interest in having Lacote and Van Acker removed from society forever.”