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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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The victim asked for it | "The famous lust for murder was not there. The killing was very unpleasant for (German cannibal/killer Armin) Meiwes. There were no base motives."

Those were not the words of Meiwes' defense attorney, as you might expect. Actually, they're what the German judge, Volker Mutze, said to explain his court's decision to find Meiwes not guilty of murdering 43-year-old Bernd Brandes, and instead sentencing Meiwes — who killed, then butchered and ate parts of Brandes — to eight-and-a-half years for manslaughter. Observers expect to see Meiwes on the street in five years.

So the next time someone suggests that Americans look to Our Betters in Europe for a more humane approach to criminal justice, think of Judge Mutze.

Yes, European Union countries eschew the death penalty, which is supposed to show that they are enlightened.

The problem is that Germany and many of these other "enlightened" countries are in the dark when it comes to the appropriate response to violent and heinous crimes. They don't simply oppose capital punishment, they oppose locking up serial killers for life.

European human rights law requires that criminals sentenced to life be eligible for parole — even if they were convicted for planting a bomb that killed 270 people in the 1988 Lockerbie crash.

The longest sentence handed out by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was 46 years — and it was for the crime of genocide.

It's pretty clear that Meiwes enjoyed killing Brandes. The two men met in 2001 when Brandes answered an Internet ad in which Meiwes solicited a man willing to be killed and consumed. Brandes went soon after to Meiwes' rustic home. Meiwes testified that Brandes changed his mind once, but agreed to the killing after consuming sleeping pills, cold medicine and nearly a bottle of schnapps. Even if Brandes had been as sober as a judge — a dubious distinction, in this case — his desire to be mutilated and murdered is evidence of a sickness in his soul. To buy the he-asked-for-it defense, a court has to believe that it is a lesser crime to kill sick people. Mutze apparently bought that argument.

Former San Jose police chief and Hoover Institution fellow Joseph McNamara is appalled. "The judge's reasoning in this is very, very strange; to see this as consensual activity — since the victim was mentally ill — that made it OK for the killer to do what he did," he noted.

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McNamara is a fervent critic of long sentences meted out in American courts to nonviolent offenders — and still he finds the Meiwes sentence offensively short.

McNamara also points to the two-year, suspended sentence meted out to the man who stabbed tennis great Monica Seles in 1993 as an example of Germany's inappropriately light punishments.

German courts, McNamara noted, "view five years as a life sentence." It apparently didn't matter that Meiwes seems likely to become a repeat offender. When police caught up with Herr Cannibal last year, he was back on the Internet, trolling for young men willing to be murdered and butchered.

Meiwes videotaped the murder and mutilation of Brandes, and then later watched the video. Yet the judge saw no lust or base motives? His motto should be: See no evil.

The manslaughter sentence — for a premeditated murder — was supposed to represent the middle ground. The defense had argued that, if anything, Meiwes was guilty of "killing on demand" (nominal sentence: five years).

Prosecutors had wanted a life sentence — subject to parole, naturally — for a killing with sexual overtones. Prosecutors are appealing, as they should.

Meanwhile, Chapman University School of Law professor John Eastman noted, the court was wrong to treat "deliberate, premediated murder and cannibalism as manslaughter on a par with a traffic-accident death caused by a negligent driver." Maybe that's what happens when only judges are on a jury. I don't believe a panel of German civilians would have rendered the same verdict. It's the professionals who are so opposed to appearing judgmental — even in a courtroom — and so caught up in the legal niceties that they can't see a sick murder for what it is.

"Each had something to get, and each had to give something," was Mutze's assessment. Only an enlightened European judge would — when presented with the violent butchering of a 43-year-old man — decide that the important issue was whether it was remotely consensual.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate