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Cannibal convicted of manslaughter, not murder

The court took into account evidence that the victim had been a willing participant in his own killing and it was not a case of sexual pleasure.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2004 18:26 IST

The verdictof the German cannibal who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for killing and eating a man who had asked to die, fell short of the murder conviction sought by prosecutors, who said Armin Meiwes had killed a Berlin-based computer engineer for sexual pleasure. The prosecution said it would appeal against the sentence.

The court took into account evidence that the victim had been a willing participant in his own killing.

Meiwes partly recorded the killing on a video, which was shown to the court. The court rejected the defence lawyer's argument that Meiwes should be convicted of "killing on request", a form of illegal euthanasia carrying a shorter sentence of six months to five years.

Judge Volker Muetze said the deed was "viewed with repulsion in our civilised society" but added the very clear video evidence showed that Meiwes could not be found guilty of murder.

"Seen legally, this is manslaughter -- killing a person without being a murderer," he said.

Meiwes, a well-spoken, polite and fit-looking computer repair man, had shocked the court during his two-month trial with his calm, unemotional testimony. He showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

Defence lawyer Harald Ermel said Meiwes was a model prisoner and could be eligible for early release.

"If he stays that way it means he could be out in mid-2008," Ermel said. "We had a fair trial and we're pleased with it."

Some legal experts disagreed.

"But I don't think that's going to happen," said Professor Arthur Kreuzer of the Institute for Criminology at the University of Giessen. "It depends on whether the judge sees a risk that he may be a repeat offender."

Judged sane and fit to stand trial, Meiwes recounted how his desire to eat another man had begun in puberty.

He told how he met the victim, a 43-year-old Berlin computer specialist named only as Bernd-Juergen B., via the Internet, where he had been openly seeking "slaughter victims".

VoluntaryDeath

A psychological expert witness said Meiwes had been subconsciously trying to consume a human being to fill the void caused by the departure of his father and brother, which left him to care for his domineering mother until her death.

Meiwes's video of the killing, in March 2001 in his sprawling half-timbered home in Rotenburg near Kassel, persuaded even prosecutors to concede the death was voluntary.

Media and observers were kept outside while the tape was shown to the court in December. One newspaper said a woman almost fainted during the film, which shows Meiwes talking to the severed head while he disembowels the body, hung from a butcher's hook in his slaughter room.

"We've seen people growing accustomed to a sub-culture that we couldn't imagine existed before this trial," Muetze said.

"We've opened a door we would rather close again but which shows how many people in need of help live out their fantasies on the Internet," he said.

With no trace of embarrassment, Meiwes said the killing had begun by him trying unsuccessfully to bite off the victim's penis at the latter's request, then cutting it off with a knife.

They both tried to eat it raw, and then fried it, trying again unsuccessfully to eat it. Meiwes then waited for hours until the victim, weakened by loss of blood from his wound, fell unconscious shortly after calling out that he needed to urinate.

He then laid him out on his butcher's bench, cut him in pieces and ate 20 kg (44 lbs) of the body over the following months, defrosting pieces portion by portion. He kept the skull in the freezer and buried other body parts in his garden.

First Published: Feb 02, 2004 17:33 IST