January 11, 2006

German cannibal faces murder charge again at trial

By Philip Blenkinsop

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German man who killed and ate a
willing victim faces the prospect of a stiffer sentence at a
retrial starting on Thursday for a crime that continues to
horrify and enthral.

Armin Meiwes, 44, was convicted of manslaughter and given
an 8-1/2-year jail term in January 2004 for cutting up a man he
met via the Internet three years before.

However, Germany's Supreme Court ruled last April that the
verdict was too lenient and Meiwes should face a second trial
with a renewed murder charge.

Retrial chambers do not have to follow a higher court's
decision, but are normally steered by their arguments. However,
as prosecutors point out, this case is anything but normal.

Meiwes, a computer repairman, admitted killing Berlin-based
computer specialist Bernd-Juergen Brandes, 42, but had
initially been spared a murder conviction and a possible life
sentence because the victim had asked to be eaten.

Prosecutors argued that Meiwes should have been found
guilty of murder as he had killed to satisfy perverted desires.

Defense counsel Harald Ermel has argued that Meiwes's sole
motive was to meet the wishes of his victim and that his crime
was only "killing on request," a form of illegal euthanasia
that carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Ermel declined to comment on the case before Thursday's
trial, although he said on Monday he would seek to block the
planned March screening of "Rotenburg," a film based on
Meiwes's life and named after his home town in central Germany.

At his home there, in a "slaughter room" fitted out with
butcher's bench, meat hook and cage, Meiwes severed Brandt's
penis and they both tried to eat it.

Later he killed Brandt, by then unconscious from blood
loss, cut his body up and froze it, eating some 20 kg (44 lb)
of it over the following months.

Psychiatrists found Meiwes deeply disturbed but sane.

The Frankfurt court must examine Meiwes's motives and ask
if they were sufficient to constitute murder. The higher court
said the original court had ignored the fact that Meiwes had
filmed the slaying for sexual gratification.

But there are some questions the trial, scheduled to last
until March, will never answer in this bizarre case of sexual
fetishism, such as what sort of person would want to be eaten.