A Roman Catholic deacon who, if convicted, would be one of the worst serial killers in Belgian history went on trial in the town of northwestern town of Bruges on Monday.
Ivo Poppe, 61, who has been dubbed the "Deacon of death" by local media, spent some 30 years working as a nurse at a clinic in the western town of Menen, where he is suspected of having killed several patients. He later worked there for 10 years as a pastoral visitor after being ordained as a deacon.
He is formally accused of murdering at least 10 people, including his own mother, his father-in-law, two other relatives and two patients.
However, a criminal inquiry has established a list of at least 50 suspect deaths, based on a count of fatalities at the clinic contained in Poppe's diary.
Most of the suspected victims died after air was injected into their bloodstream.
Motivated by 'compassion?'
Poppe, who is married and has three children, was arrested in 2014 after authorities were informed of confessions he made to a psychiatrist of "actively euthanizing" dozens of people. He also made two partial confessions during the inquiry, claiming to have acted "out of compassion" to put an end to people's suffering.
However, he has since retracted them and now denies any culpability.
The first death laid to Poppe's charge occurred in 1978 and the last was in 2011 - that of his mother, who died aged 89 while suffering from depression.
One of Poppe's lawyers said on Monday that the list of fatalities in Poppe's diary, which contained names and dates with little crosses alongside, should not necessarily be treated as a record of his deeds as some have claimed, pointing out that the death of King Baudouin in 1993 was also marked in this way.
The trial is set to last two weeks, with some 80 witnesses, relatives, psychiatrists and officials from the diocese to give their testimony.
It got underway as another male nurse, Niels Högel, who is already serving a life term in neighboring Germany for killing six hospital patients, was charged with 97 additional counts of murder.
tj/msh (AFP, KNA)