Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal who killed, sliced up and ate a Berlin computer engineer begging to be devoured, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday. The sentence came following a retrial of a shocking case that gained worldwide attention because of its gory details.
Meiwes, a 44-year-old computer repair man, had originally been sentenced to 8 and a half years for manslaughter but that verdict was overturned by Germany's federal appeals court which deemed it too lenient and ordered him to be retried on a murder charge.
The judge ruled that Meiwes had killed to satisfy his sexual urges. The Frankfurt court ruling means Meiwes could be eligible for parole after serving a mandatory 15 years in jail.
Meiwes's defence lawyers had argued that he should face the lesser conviction of "killing on demand" -- a form of illegal euthanasia -- and said they planned to appeal against the new verdict. Legal experts have said the case presents the justice system with a dilemma because the victim, Bernd-Jürgen Brandes, had wanted to be eaten.
For witnesses at the trial, it was hard to imagine the quietly spoken, polite and surprisingly ordinary-looking Meiwes hanging up the victim's body from a meat hook in the slaughtering room he had set up in his home, disembowelling him and cutting him up into meal-sized portions ready for storage in his freezer.
Skull in the freezer
Yet that is what he did, filming the process with a video camera in an orgy of gore that marked the culmination of an obsession with cannibalism since puberty. He defrosted Brandes portion by portion in the following months and turned him into gourmet meals. He kept the skull in a freezer and buried other parts in his garden.
"I wanted to eat him but I didn't want to kill him," said Meiwes during the four-month trial.
"He was close to me with every bite," Meiwes recalled, adding that Brandes had encouraged him to seek out other slaughter victims. "Bernd told me he didn't want to be on his own in the freezer for long," said Meiwes, who did indeed keep advertizing for fresh victims on the Internet until 18 months later, December 2002, when police arrested him after receiving a tip from a Web user.
Meiwes and Brandes had contacted each other through the Internet where Meiwes had been seeking "fit men for slaughter". They met in March 2001 in Meiwes's rambling, half-timbered house left him by his domineering mother in the central German town of Rotenburg.
Skip the next two paragraphs if you're squeamish. Brandes asked Meiwes to emasculate him and drank half a bottle of Schnapps and painkilling tablets to cope with the pain. Meiwes obliged and they both tried to eat Brandes's penis together.
After Brandes became unconscious from loss of blood, Meiwes took him to his slaughtering bench and -- this is the main reason for Monday's murder conviction which was widely expected -- killed him by cutting his throat with a butcher's knife.
"Everybody has right to decide about own life"
Meiwes told the court he regretted what he did. But he added: "Everybody has the right to decide themselves about their own life and their body." His lawyers pointed out that Brandes had in e-mails, Internet chat forums and telephone conversations clearly expressed his desire for his life to be ended, and for him to be "nullified".
Meiwes said he has written his memoirs in jail and wants to show people with similar fantasies "that it can never bring them fulfilment." Police estimate there are 8,000 to 10,000 people in Germany alone who are using Internet chat rooms to share fantasies about eating a person or being eaten.
Psychiatrists who examined Meiwes said he was severely disturbed but sane and fit to stand trial.
During the retrial, Meiwes told how he had fantasized about eating his schoolmates and how he would record televison documentaries about post-mortems. He would also barbecue dolls, and would form human limbs out of marzipan and eat them wedged in bread rolls. The fantasies became more intense after the death of his mother in 1999 left him alone in her large house where he began to surf the Internet.