World News

Danish Inventor Accused of Submarine Murder Takes the Stand

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — It took three dogs trained to search on water, an oceanographer and a team of military divers to find the body of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist, in the bay off Copenhagen after she went missing Aug. 10.

Posted Updated

, New York Times

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — It took three dogs trained to search on water, an oceanographer and a team of military divers to find the body of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist, in the bay off Copenhagen after she went missing Aug. 10.

On Thursday, the man accused of killing and dismembering her in his self-built submarine went on trial for murder.

Wall, 30, a promising and prolific journalist, disappeared after meeting the suspect, Peter Madsen, for an interview aboard the submarine he had invented. Hours later, after text messages to her boyfriend had stopped, the police were called. Parts of her body were later found in Koge Bay, near Copenhagen.

After gathering evidence contradicting Madsen’s shifting explanations about Wall’s death, prosecutors charged him with premeditated murder, sexual assault, indecent handling of a body and other crimes.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Madsen, 47, whose case has garnered attention far beyond Scandinavia. About two dozen seats for journalists at the Copenhagen City Court were filled, and more than 100 reporters from around the world followed the proceedings via a video link in a basement of the neoclassical courthouse.

The trial is expected to take place over 12 days during the next two months, with a verdict expected in late April. On Thursday, Madsen pleaded not guilty to murder.

The trial prosecutor, Jakob Buch-Jepsen, spent the morning summarizing the case, the charges and the main evidence that will be presented. He said 37 witnesses would be called, a handful by the defense.

He also warned the court that graphic and disturbing photographs would be presented and said that, according to a psychiatric evaluation, Madsen was “severely aberrant,” but not insane. He added that Madsen was manipulative and lacked empathy and feelings of guilt.

On March 24, 2017, Wall contacted Madsen, requesting an interview. They then met Aug. 10, the day they departed on the submarine. The prosecutor showed pictures of Madsen and Wall sailing off into the Oresund Strait around 7 p.m. At 8:16 p.m., she sent the last text messages to her boyfriend. An image of the chat was shared with the courtroom on a screen. “im still alive btw”

“but going down now!”

“i love you!!!!!”

“he brought coffee and cookies tho”

After that, she went silent.

Forensic experts later found her blood on Madsen’s face. Her underpants and nylon stockings, with cut marks, were found in the submarine. The courtroom was shown a video tour of the vessel, and the prosecutor showed footage of divers’ efforts to recover Wall’s body parts from the bottom of the ocean. There were shots of plastic bags, containing clothing and limbs, weighed down by metal pipes.

Madsen sat calmly, resting his chin on his fists at times, as he followed the proceedings intently. After a lunch break, he took the stand.

At times cheeky, at times condescending, he had an answer for everything. He stuck to his most recent account that the death was a terrible accident caused by a malfunction that made the engines stop, the pressure to drop, the hatch to lock shut and gases to poison the air in the submarine, resulting in Wall’s death. He said he survived because he was on top of the submarine at the time.

He said a vent suddenly opened, allowing the hatch to open and fresh air to gush in. He said he tried to hide the death out of consideration for Wall’s family. “I didn’t want to share with the rest of the world the horrible manner in which she died,” he said. He said he tried for two hours to get her body overboard, but gave up.

“At that point, Peter Madsen can’t do anything else,” he said, speaking of himself in the third person. He said he drove around, rested, then decided the only thing left to do was to cut her up.

When it was suggested that violent online videos inspired the mutilation, he disagreed, saying that he watched them to access feelings of empathy. “I have a tendency to always root for the underdog and the weaker party,” he said.

The prosecution asked: “How could you even have the idea of dismembering her? Are you inspired by such films?”

“No,” he answered. “But I worry about you for asking.”

Madsen’s testimony is at odds with the record. In the indictment, prosecutors said he had taken a “saw, sharpened screwdrivers, straps, strips and pipes” into the submarine before the trip. The straps and pipes, they say, were tied to Wall’s torso and limbs to weight them down after he threw them overboard.

While an exact cause of death has not been established because the body parts were in the water for so long, investigators say that she was either strangled, or her throat cut.

Wall had apparently intended to write about Madsen as part of an article about a Danish amateur space race. Though she had been in touch with him months earlier, it was not until the afternoon of her disappearance that he extended an impromptu invitation to interview him that evening on his submarine, the UC3 Nautilus.

Wall and her boyfriend, Ole Stobbe, had been scheduled to move to Beijing less than a week after she went missing.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence or, failing that, a sentence of “safe custody,” a special psychiatric measure for those considered particularly dangerous.

While both sentences can be indefinite, Madsen could apply for parole after 12 years if given a life sentence. A sentence of “safe custody” in a secure medical institution is reviewed on a regular basis by the courts. The Danish Medico-Legal Council, an independent medical body that advises the courts, has recommended that Madsen be placed in safe custody.

In Denmark, serious crimes that carry more than a four-year prison sentence are normally tried before three judges and a six-member jury. But the accused has the right to a smaller panel, which is what Madsen has chosen. His trial is being conducted before Judge Anette Burko and two lay jurors. The opinions of the judge and each of the jurors carry equal weight.

In memory of Wall, her family and friends have set up a fund to support young female journalists. The first recipient will receive a grant of $5,000 on March 23, Wall’s birthday.

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.