[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 18:09 GMT
The challenge of the 'cannibal consensus'
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

Armin Meiwes is, on the surface of things, an attractive, well-dressed, and amiable 42-year-old German.

Armin Meiwes on the first day of his trial
There are mixed feelings about Mr Meiwes
He is also, by his own admission, a cannibal, who three years ago ate an engineer he had found through the internet.

On Friday, a court convicted Meiwes of manslaughter and sentenced him to eight and a half years in jail.

The verdict fell short of the murder conviction sought by prosecutors.

It was a complex trial. At issue was whether a person could be tried and imprisoned for murder when his victim had consented to be slaughtered.

'No death wish'

In March 2001, Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, 43, answered an advert Mr Meiwes had posted on the internet for a well-built male who was prepared to be slaughtered and then consumed.

Murder always happens against somebody's will
Harald Ermel
They met, and Mr Meiwes allegedly took Mr Brandes back to his home in Rotenburg, where the victim agreed to the removal of his penis, which Mr Meiwes then flambéed and served up to eat together.

Mr Brandes was then killed, cut up, and put in the freezer.

The act of cannibalism is not in itself a crime in Germany, meaning that particular legal avenue was closed to prosecutors.

Instead they opted for a charge of sexually-driven murder, combined with a charge of "disturbing the peace of the dead" - despite the apparently consensual nature of the act.

The defence, for its part, argued that Mr Meiwes was guilty of nothing more than "killing by request" - an offence which carries a maximum sentence of five years incarceration.

He slaughtered his victim like a piece of livestock and treated him as an object of his fancy
Marcus Koehler
The defence team had sought to prove to the court that not one of the men who met the cannibal was made to go through with anything they were uncertain about.

London-based hotel worker Dirk Moller - one of dozens who allegedly replied to Mr Meiwes' adverts - was called to testify that he had even got as far as being chained to the bed and marked out for butchery before changing his mind and being released.

The prosecution has conceded that Mr Brandes was an apparently willing victim.

But they insisted he was not of a sound mind when he accepted the offer, and moreover, they alleged, Mr Meiwes was aware of this.

Mr Brandes' boyfriend told the court that Mr Brandes, with whom he said he enjoyed a normal sex life, had no apparent desire to die.

Time for contracts

German experts say that while there may be hundreds of people with "cannibalistic tendencies" in Germany, only a tiny proportion of those would be willing to see their fantasies through to their fatal conclusion as Mr Brandes apparently did.

The kind of internet message boards where Mr Meiwes placed his own request still exist, but the real cannibals on these sites appear to be hard to find.

Messages which request people for slaughter are often written off as jokes by other participants, many of whom are keen to stress that their interest in cannibalism is only a fantasy.

While Mr Meiwes received dozens of responses to his postings, he is believed to have only met four other men beside Mr Brandes, none of whom went through with the act.

There were fears that should the court punish Mr Meiwes lightly they would unwittingly encourage real cannibals.

But Mr Meiwes's defence lawyer argued that is his client was put away for life, the true horror of murder will be belittled.

Harald Ermel has said that murder "always happens against somebody's will".

Mr Ermel advised those planning similar forays into the world of cannibalism to ensure both parties draw up a contract before the act takes place.

German cannibal 'fit for trial'
23 Jan 04  |  Europe
Cannibal victim never told lover
12 Jan 04  |  Europe
Cannibal 'wanted to get married'
09 Jan 04  |  Europe
Cannibal 'sought other victims'
08 Dec 03  |  Europe
Cannibalism: A modern taboo
02 Dec 03  |  Europe


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific