‘Cannibal’ charged with murder in Germany

The beginning of the trial of Armin Meiwes has been widely reported in both German and English publications. This means I always cast my eye over the English versions to see how they describe German legal institutions and law, what vocabulary they use.

The question arises as to whether this would be more likely to be murder in English law than in German law. An Oasis, for example, wonders

bq. His defence revolves around the fact that his victim actually agreed to be killed and eaten and his defence team argue that at worst he is guilty of illegal euthanasia – “killing on demand” which carries a maximum sentence of five years. Presumably however (I’m out on a limb here) even although consent was given that would not mitigate the fact that there was actus rea and mens rea.

Looking at the English definition of murder, however, this doesn’t seem to have been committed ‘under the Queen’s peace’. However, I can’t see any defence working. Insanity would be pleaded. Serial killers may fit the legal definition of insanity, but they aren’t usually allowed to get away with it. The German definition of murder is even weirder than the English one. It’s closely followed in the Criminal Code by circumstances that are less than murder, including killing at the victim’s request.

Meanwhile, there is also a language-learning aspect involved, according to the Guardian report:

bq. Brandes spoke good English, he said, and since eating him his English had improved.

7 thoughts on “‘Cannibal’ charged with murder in Germany

  1. Having visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube, I wonder whether Rotenburg without an ‘h’ is teh right spelling.

    On cannibalism, German commentators seem to be forgetting the siege of Leningrad in the last war, that plane crash in Uruguay(?)/the Andes on which the book Survived! was based and the celebrated Eng. case of R. v. Dudley & Stephens (1884) – where 2 shipwrecked sailors ate the cabin boy. A book has also recently been written about that case of ‘necessity’ – a good defence in Eng. criminal law. Yes, there was a token trial when the 2 survivors got back to London and, yes, they were let off.

    I wonder whether compelling mental need – ‘Not’ or Selbstnötigung!’ -would work as a defence for a cannibal.

    A German lawyer on Vienna radio last night claimed German law needs no special law to provide for this fraught scenario, as it is ‘adequately covered’ by other German crim. law provisions, as you point out – ‘killing on demand’.

  2. I’ve been wondering what we were getting in translation here.

    This case has been talked about many times here at my American law school. Since we don’t know German law very well, everybody is trying to fit American law to the case.

    There have even been rumors that a crim law exam may have a fact pattern that’s somewhat based on this, because the entire situation reads like a 1st year crim law exam.

    Of course, 1L’s do see the world in rather skewed ways. :)

  3. I think I’ll add a short entry on the difference in law (am a bit stressed at the moment so I won’t research it at great length).
    transmogriflaw: I wonder if enough people die in different ways for a first-year law exam!

    I know one book on Dudley and Stephens, Cannibalism and the Common Law, but it isn’t really recent – 1984. I seem to recall they were picked up by a German merchant ship out of Bremen not long afterwards.
    If there were a defence of need, which I doubt (as I suppose you do), presumably it could be negatived by the fact that the defendant had three or four other people in and let them go when they didn’t want to be eaten.this is not Rothenburg ob der Tauber – that would be a nice idea. It’s in East Hessen apparently. And while I’m at it, I’m afraid I must ask you to take that umlaut away from Furth im Wald…

  4. Thanks for pulling me up on the German place names.

    Cannibalism and the Common Law, A Victorian Yachting Tragedy, 2003, pp. 368 is a coincidental book based on a series of lectures delivered to the Royal College of Surgeons by Prof. AW Brian Simpson. See a review on http://www.lawreports.co.uk/cannibalsrev.htm
    The book also had a recent review in the Eng. & Wales Bar Council ‘Counsel’ Magazine.

    Sensationelle DDR-Mordsfälle written by an ex-Kriminalkommissar also recounts a gruesome story of an angry/hungry husband killing and cannibalising his well-built and constantly nagging wife. This ex-GDR case will, I’m sure, not be ‘prayed in aid’ as the wife was certainly not a willing participant.

  5. I don’t know the GDR book, but the Cannibalism and the Common Law seems to be the book I mentioned. It’s by A.W. Brian Simpson and has been in Penguin since 1986. I can’t imagine he’s rewritten it – it’s just been mentioned again. I think it sells in the USA too. What I don’t understand in the review you quote is the subtitle ‘A Victorian yachting tragedy’. The subtitle of my edition is ‘The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise’ (capitalization a bit odd there).

  6. I’ve just dug out the title of the cannibal book – definitely not for the faint-hearted: Der Kannibale – Ungewöhnliche Todesfälle aus der DDR by Hans Girod. Publ. 2000 Das Neue Berlin. ISBN 3-360-00928-2. See in particular the lead short story from 1969/70: Der Kannibale at p. 193 Fall 1> Aktenzeichen 373/1 VPKA (Volkspolizeikreisamt) Glauchau.

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