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Woman Guilty of Skydiving Murder: Sabotaged Parachute to Kill Romantic Rival

Accused Els Clottemans wipes a tear as she is found guilty at the courthouse in Tongeren, Belgium, Oct. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
Woman Guilty of Skydiving Murder: Sabotaged Parachute to Kill Romantic Rival
Els Clottemans in court in Tongeren, Belgium. (AP/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS (CBS/AP) Els Clottemans, a 26-year-old Belgian schoolteacher who was found guilty in a bizarre skydiving murder case Wednesday, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday.

In sentencing Clottemans, the judge said the only mitigating circumstance in the murder was her feeble psychological condition - Clottemans' attempted suicide in 2008.

The verdict against Clottemans ended a month-long trial that revealed no hard proof that she had sabotaged Els Van Doren's parachute so that neither it nor a safety chute opened during a Nov. 18, 2006 jump over eastern Belgium.

Van Doren, then 38, jumped that day - with 11 other parachutists, including Clottemans - from a small plane flying at 30,000 feet.

The 12 jurors agreed with the prosecution that the evidence was circumstantial, but overwhelming. They agreed that jealousy was a motive: The killer and her victim were intimately involved with the same man, a Dutch skydiver, whom Clottemans wanted for herself.

She and Van Doren were members of the same parachute club.

Her trial opened Sept. 24 with the accused sitting nervously near the mud-caked parachute bag and helmet that Van Doren wore on the day she died.

The jury saw video footage from a camera mounted on Van Doren's helmet, that she shot during what would be her last jump. She and Clottemans were among the last four jumpers to leave the Cessna plane.

The video showed how the victim looked up, yanking at her gear, hoping to see an open canopy above her. Neither parachute opened and she crashed into a garden in the East Belgian town of Opglabbeek and died instantly.

During the trial, the jury was told that Clottemans, an accomplished skydiver, knew very well how to disable a parachute. Evidence showed she also sent anonymous letters about Van Doren's love life to mutual friends.

Throughout her trial, Clottemans maintained her innocence.