Prosecutors: Skydiving love triangle led to murder
Friday, September 24, 2021 3:13 PM

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(Source: Associated Press/AP Online)By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS - A jealous skydiver caught up in a love triangle allegedly sabotaged the parachute of her close friend, Belgian prosecutors said Friday, sending the woman plunging 13,000 feet (4,500 meters) to her death in a horrifying fall captured on video.

As her murder trial opened Friday, Els Clottemans sat nervously in front of the mudcaked parachute bag and helmet that Els Van Doren wore as she frantically tried to open her parachute before crashing to the ground in November 2006.

Clottemans, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, has vehemently denied the murder charge and accusations she killed her friend to claim for herself the Dutch skydiver that both were sleeping with. Her lawyers say there is no hard evidence to link her to the crime.

In a 68-page indictment, the prosecution said Clottemans had both the time and the knowledge to sabotage the parachute and asserted that eliminating a romantic rival was the motive.

Chief defense lawyer Vic Van Aelst said prosecutors "have nothing" to tie his client to the death.

"It cannot be true that you condemn someone to the most serious punishment based on claims and declarations," Van Aelst said.

Clottemans became a prime suspect when she attempted suicide hours before she was to make a second statement to police a month after the death.

A jury was selected Friday at the trial in eastern Tongeren, the indictment was read and the defense gave its counter-arguments. The trial is expected to last a month and will include testimony from Marcel, the man at the center of the alleged love triangle.

On Nov. 18, 2006, Van Doren, an experienced skydiver with some 2,300 jumps to her name, lept out of a Cessna plane together with Clottemans, Marcel and another skydiver, intending to perform tricks in the sky.

Clottemans, however, said she jumped a fraction too late and did not join the maneuvers with the other three. When the sign was given to open the parachutes, Van Doren struggled with her parachute and hurtled toward the ground.

A videocamera on Van Doren's gear filmed her desperate struggle as she tried to release her reserve parachute. The video ended as she landed in a suburban garden in eastern Belgium.

"The first question a family normally asks is whether the victim suffered, whether she knew what happened. We don't have to ask, it was filmed. Try to deal with that as a family," said Jef Vermassen, a lawyer for Van Doren's family.

A married mother of two children, the 38-year-old Van Doren spent most weekends away from her family, skydiving and hanging out with Marcel at the skydiving club or his home. After the two became lovers, Clottemans also became their friend, and eventually also slept with Marcel.

The prosecution says a week before Van Doren's death, all three stayed at Marcel's home, with Clottemans sleeping in the living room while the other two were in the bedroom. Prosecutors say during that weekend, Clottemans could have sabotaged the parachute.

It was not clear from the trial's first day if Van Doren ever knew that Clottemans had slept with Marcel.

"We will not deny that Ms. Clottemans has had some problems," said Van Aelst. "But she certainly is not a psychopath."

Media interest in the trial was so strong that authorities had to open up a room next to the courthouse so throngs of journalists could follow the proceedings through remote video.

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