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A French woman Véronique Courjault was, on Thursday the 18th of June 2009, sentenced to eight years in prison for killing three of her new-born infants, burning one body and hiding the other two in a freezer.

Prosecutors had called for a 10-year sentence for Véronique 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.

The 41-year-old woman betrayed no emotion as her sentence was read out in the in the central French city of Tours.

The seven men and two women who made up the jury took more than eight hours to reach their verdict, at the close of an eight-day trial that had gripped France.

Madame Courjault, who kept the three pregnancies hidden from her husband, had faced a maximum life sentence for the triple infanticide, but prosecutors finally sought 10 years. She had 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, aged 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 demonise Véronique Courjault," Varin told the jury. "But do not turn her into an icon either."

Taking the stand for the last time earlier that day, 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, had supported his wife throughout the trial and insisted she needed 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 a week earlier.

The couple at first insisted they had no idea who the infants were, but after DNA tests showed they were the parents, Véronique Courjault admitted to their murder.

Véronique Courjault later testified that she burned the body of a third baby in the fireplace of their home in France in 1999.

Last update: June 18, 2009

Véronique Courjault

A case of ‘Pregnancy Denial’ or unexplained tragedy?