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France

'Frozen babies' mother gets eight years in jail

©

Video by Catherine NICHOLSON

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-19

A French court has sentenced Veronique Courjault, a 41 year-old mother, to eight years in jail for killing three of her newborn babies, burning one corpse and hiding the others in a freezer.

AFP - Jurors on Thursday sentenced a French woman to eight years in jail for killing three of her newborn babies, burning one corpse and hiding the others in a freezer.
  
Prosecutors had called for a 10-year sentence for Veronique Courjault, after she admitted to smothering two baby boys to death at her expat home in South Korea in 2002 and 2003, and a third child born in France in 1999.
  
Wearing a navy blue and white checked shirt, her hair pulled back in a pony tail, the 41-year-old betrayed no emotion as her sentence was read out in the in the central French city of Tours.
  
The nine jurors -- seven men and two women -- took more than eight hours to reach their verdict, at the close of an eight-day trial that has gripped the country.
  
Courjault, who kept the three pregancies hidden from her husband, had faced a maximum life sentence for the triple infanticide, but prosecutors finally sought 10 years. She has already served three years in pre-trial detention.
  
The high-profile case focused on whether Courjault -- described as a caring mother to her two living sons, now 12 and 14 -- suffered from a mental illness when she gave birth alone to the three babies and then killed them.
  
A panel of mental health experts were called to testify on a little-known condition identified as "pregnancy denial," a deep disorder in which a woman suffers from a complete lack of awareness of being pregnant.
  
But prosecutor Philippe Varin finally argued that she was not suffering from denial, saying she managed to "fool her entire entourage," although he acknowledged that many questions remained unanswered in the case.
  
"Do not demonize Veronique Courjault," Varin told the jury. "But do not turn her into an icon either."
  
Taking the stand for the last time earlier Thursday, her face streaked with tears, Courjault told the court: "I tried to explain myself as best I could. I know my words weren't good enough most of the time.
  
"I want to say that I know I killed our children, and that it is a fact that will stay with me."
  
Courjault's husband Jean-Louis, who discovered the first two corpses at their home in 2006, has supported his wife throughout the trial and insists she needs psychiatric help, not punishment.
  
Defence lawyers had appealed to jurors to show understanding in their verdict and allow the troubled family to rebuild their lives.
  
"This woman committed a mistake, a crime, but she is not a monster," said lawyer Henri Leclerc in his closing arguments.
  
Already the mother of two young sons, Courjault hid two pregnancies from her husband after he moved the family to the South Korean capital Seoul to take a job as an engineer for the US car parts company Delphi.
  
Jean-Louis Courjault found the two bodies in the freezer in Seoul in July 2006 after going downstairs to put some fish in the icebox.
  
"Suddenly, I saw a hand. The baby's body was wrapped in a towel, in a bag. I didn't understand a thing," he told the court last week.
  
The couple at first insisted they had no idea who the infants were, but after DNA tests showed they were the parents, Veronique Courjault admitted to their murder.
  
His wife later testified that she burned the body of a third baby in the fireplace of their home in France in 1999.

Date created : 2009-06-18

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