A Danish inventor has been sentenced to life in prison for the premeditated murder and sexual assault of the Swedish journalist Kim Wall on his submarine in August last year, The Guardian reports.
The judge, Anette Burkø, and two jurors found Peter Madsen, 47, guilty of all three of the main charges of premeditated murder, aggravated sexual assault and desecrating a corpse.
“This is a cynical and pre-planned sexual assault of a particularly brutal nature on a random woman who, in connection with her journalistic work, accepted an invitation for a sailing trip on the accused’s submarine,” Burkø said, explaining the rare decision to hand down Denmark’s most severe sentence.
Wall’s parents, Ingrid and Joachim Wall, who had followed much of the trial from the courtroom, were not present for the verdict, although the seven family seats were taken by other friends and relatives.
Wall was 30 when she died. The journalist had reported from all over the world for Time magazine, the New York Times and the Guardian, among others. Her boyfriend told the court she was “incredibly ambitious” and “amazingly curious”.
Madsen looked crushed as he heard the verdict, sitting motionless for close to a minute with his eyes closed and his head bowed, in contrast to his behaviour during the trial, when he had looked frequently around the courtroom. He then left to confer with his defence lawyer, Betina Hald Engmark, who announced on their return that he would appeal.
The case has gripped Denmark ever since Wall failed to return from a trip on Madsen’s self-built Nautilus submarine on 10 August. Madsen was a semi-celebrity at the time of his arrest, having made a name for himself with three self-built submarines and two crowdfunded manned space projects.
Burkø said his version of events – that Wall died when an accident filled the vessel with toxic exhaust fumes – was “not credible and not consistent with the following decision to dismember the body”. Madsen had changed his explanation for Wall’s death several times, Burkø noted.
She said the court instead believed the prosecution’s theory that he had sexually tortured Wall to fulfil a violent sexual fantasy.
It is very unusual for a life sentence to be handed down for the murder of a single person in Denmark, where prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment serve an average of 16 years.
Madsen admitted to just one of the four charges, mistreatment of a corpse. He confessed in October to dismembering Wall’s body after divers found her head, legs and clothing in Køge Bay, claiming it had been necessary to cut it up in order to remove it from the submarine.
Over the course of the 11-day trial, spread over seven weeks, prosecutors presented their case in often horrific detail. But Madsen himself refused to go into detail in court, calling Wall’s death “a very, very traumatic event which I do not want to describe”.
When he was arrested in August, Madsen initially claimed to have dropped Wall off on land, but he almost immediately admitted that she had died onboard and that he had then “buried her at sea”.
At first, he said her skull had been crushed by a heavy latch, but after the discovery of Wall’s head, he said she had been asphyxiated, claiming to have come up with his first story to spare Wall’s parents.
During the trial, the court heard from a woman to whom Madsen had confessed that he was “a psychopath, but a loving one”, a judgment backed up by a forensic psychiatric report that described Madsen as a “perverse polymorph” with “psychopathic traits”.
Such was the interest in the trial that the Copenhagen district court opened up a special room with a video link on some days to accommodate as many as 115 journalists from 15 countries. Wall’s parents attended the trial most days and quietly took notes from specially reserved seats beside the media section.
Madsen expressed his regret when asked to make a closing statement at the end of the trial. “The only thing I want to say is that I’m very, very sorry for what has happened,” he said.
Madsen was also found guilty of a lesser charge of reckless sailing, and ordered to pay damages to Wall’s parents and boyfriend.