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Mother breaks down during grisly 'frozen baby' trial



Latest update : 2009-06-10

A Frenchwoman who confessed to a grisly infanticide broke down in tears at the opening of her trial. Veronique Courjault faces life in jail after killing three newborn babies and hiding two corpses in the freezer of her expat home in South Korea.

AFP - A Frenchwoman who confessed to killing three of her newborn babies, hiding two of them in the freezer of her expat home in South Korea, broke down in tears at the opening of her trial Tuesday.

In a case that has gripped France, Veronique Courjault, 41, faces life in jail after admitting smothering two baby boys born secretly in Seoul in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999.

Taking the stand in the courtroom in the central city of Tours, Courjault -- who has spent three years in pre-trial detention -- appeared frail and anxious, struggling with erratic breathing.

Wearing a light blue shirt and jacket, her hair clipped back, she made eye contact with her husband and sobbed into a white handkerchief as her mother, father and in-laws smiled and nodded at her in support.

Jean-Louis Courjault, 42, who was kept in the dark about his wife's pregnancies and was cleared last year of any involvement in the crime, has stood by her since her confession in 2006.

"I am very, very tense. I am here to support the woman I love," Courjault told reporters as he arrived in court.

Already the mother of two young sons, Courjault hid two pregnancies from her husband after he moved the family to the South Korean capital to take a job as an engineer for the US car parts company Delphi.

A heavyset woman at the time, she managed to conceal her condition from all around her, including a doctor sister-in-law, giving birth alone at home before suffocating the babies.

Described by case psychiatrists as emotionally fragile and out of touch with reality, Courjault has struggled to explain her actions, saying only that she could not accept the pregnancies.

"I could not feel them move inside me," she told mental health experts. "As far as I was concerned they were never children. It was a part of myself, an extension of myself that I was killing."

In July 2006, Jean-Louis Courjault stumbled on the bodies of two babies, wrapped in plastic bags, in the freezer in their home in Seoul, after going downstairs to put some fish in the icebox.

After informing South Korean police of the gruesome find, he was allowed to return to France, where his wife and sons were spending their summer holidays.

Both parents at first insisted they had no idea who the infants were, but in October, after DNA tests showed they were the parents, Veronique Courjault admitted to their murder.

She also told investigators she had smothered an earlier child, born in their home in western France in 1999, burning the body in the family fireplace.

Courjault maintains her husband, who now lives with their two sons, aged 12 and 14, in the Tours region, knew nothing of the killings.

Since his wife's confession, Courjault has supported her and visited her regularly in jail. He believes she acted out of extreme psychological distress and needs help, not punishment.

"There is such a thing as pregnancies that go wrong. We need to try to understand," he said.

Nine jurors -- seven men and two women -- will have to decide whether or not she was suffering from a mental disorder that led her to deny her pregnancies, as has been suggested by her defence team.

Psychiatrists have admitted being faced with an exceptional case, saying they believe Courjault was aware she was pregnant but that she was driven by a powerful aversion to bearing any more children.

Judges rejected a request on Tuesday from Courjault's defence team for the trial, which runs until June 17, to proceed behind closed doors.

After initially asking the couple return to South Korea for questioning, officials there have agreed that the case be tried in France.

Date created : 2009-06-09