DOUAI, France - A murder trial opened Thursday of a French housewife accused of killing eight of her children at birth which she claimed were from an incestuous relationship with her father.
Dominique Cottrez, a 51-year-old former health worker, was in tears even before the proceedings began in a northern French court in a case that has drawn outrage across the country.
She is accused of suffocating eight of her babies between 1989 and 2000 shortly after secretly giving birth to them on towels in the bathroom of her home near the Belgian border.
Cottrez's obesity made the pregnancies undetectable, even for her doctors as well as her husband and two adult daughters.
"Each time, I hoped the good Lord would do something, a miracle. Like someone would tell me, 'Look, you're pregnant.' Maybe then I would have said something, it would have triggered something in me and I would have gotten treatment," she told a local newspaper in January.
In the end the trigger came from outside when in July 2010 a new owner moved into the home of Cottrez's parents in the northern French village of Villers-au-Tertre and unearthed two bodies of infants wrapped in plastic bags buried in the garden.
Six more were later found in Cottrez's own home nearby.
Cottrez told investigators that she feared the babies were born from a sexual relationship with her father that had taken place from her childhood until his death in 2007.
'Extensions of herself'
However, testing has revealed that all of the dead infants were fathered by her husband, Pierre-Marie Cottrez. Some of the children were born while he was away for business.
"She was prisoner to a downward psychological spiral. For her, these children had no identity, they were just the results of an incestuous relationship with her father," said one of her lawyers, Frank Berton.
The trial is expected to delve into whether Cottrez was fully conscious of her crimes. It may also reveal what, if any, suspicions her family had.
The infants' corpses were hidden in a laundry basket, the garage and cabinets at her family home. Yet at the conclusion of their investigation authorities did not file charges against any of her family members.
Childrens' welfare groups have expressed outrage over the case.
"This is not a case of pregnancy denial, it's the denial of a child. Mrs. Cottrez used murder as a means of contraception," said Yves Crespin, the lawyer for an anti-child abuse group.
However, Cottrez's lawyers note that despite the killings she kept the bodies of the infants close to her bed over many years.
"She didn't just give birth to babies, but extensions of herself, which she was not able to let go of," said lawyer Marie-Helene Carlier.