Berlin - A German police officer will go on trial on Friday accused of murdering a willing victim he met on a website for cannibalism fetishists.
In a lurid case that made international headlines, prosecutors say the 56-year-old defendant, Detlef Guenzel, confessed to stabbing the throat of a man last November and then cutting his body into small pieces and burying them in his garden.
The indictment against Guenzel cites “satisfaction of sexual lust” as a motive, but there is no evidence that the suspect ate any part of the victim.
Guenzel could face 15 years in prison if convicted on charges of murder and “disturbing the peace of the dead” by the court in the eastern city of Dresden.
“The fact that the victim was apparently willing played no role in determining the charges against him,” the prosecutor's office spokesman Lorenz Haase told AFP.
“We do not believe this was a case of assisted suicide,” which carries a maximum sentence of five years' jail, he added.
A grisly 50-minute video showing the dismemberment is to be presented during the trial, which is scheduled to last at least until November and hear around 20 witnesses.
But Guenzel's defence team say the recording proves that the dead man, 59-year-old Polish-born Wojciech Stempniewicz, committed suicide by hanging himself.
The men are believed to have come across each other in October 2013 in an internet chatroom for cannibalism fetishists billed as “the #1 site for exotic meat” and boasting around 3 000 registered members.
Stempniewicz, a business consultant living in the northern city of Hanover, and Guenzel, a member of the police force for three decades, had extensive contact via email, text message and telephone before finally arranging the fatal date on November 4.
They met at Dresden's main railway station, from where Guenzel drove his visitor back to his house in the Ore Mountains town of Hartmannsdorf-Reichenau which he ran as a bed and breakfast for several years with his life partner.
What happened next is open to dispute.
Investigators say Guenzel told them he took Stempniewicz down to his cellar and stabbed his throat to kill him.
However, his defence attorney Endrik Wilhelm said Guenzel has since withdrawn his partial confession.
Wilhelm said the video shows that Stempniewicz, while he was hanging by the throat from a pulley, had constant contact with the ground with his feet.
“He could have stopped the strangulation at any time,” he told the daily Saechsische Zeitung.
According to media reports, the video shows a man in boxer shorts dismembering the naked body of a man suspended from a hook whose mouth was taped shut and his hands bound behind his back.
At one point, the man with the knife stops to listen for a heartbeat before continuing to cut.
An investigator who watched the video told the Saechsische Zeitung it was “pure horror”.
If the death was an assisted suicide, Wilhelm argues, his client would only be guilty of disturbing the peace of the dead, often punished with a simple fine.
Guenzel spent at least four hours cutting the body into pieces and sawing through bone, and then buried body parts in various spots on the sloping lawn of his property.
An autopsy revealed Stempniewicz had cancer although it is not clear whether he knew this.
Guenzel pointed investigators to the sites where he buried the remains. The genitals, however, are still missing, according to local media.
The case has revived memories of German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who admitted to killing, mutilating and eating the flesh of a lover in 2001 whom he had met on the internet via an advertisement looking for a “slaughter victim”.
Meiwes was originally convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison in 2004.
But another court found him guilty of murder in a 2006 retrial and jailed him for life.
The case exposed a murky underworld of violent fetish websites in which volunteers find partners to share fantasies and, in extremely rare cases, act them out in real life.