Danish inventor denies journalist murder as trial opens

Danish inventor Peter Madsen did not address the court but his lawyer Betina Hald Engmark said he denied the murder charge and maintained his position that the reporter died accidentally on board his submarine.
Danish inventor Peter Madsen did not address the court but his lawyer Betina Hald Engmark said he denied the murder charge and maintained his position that the reporter died accidentally on board his submarine.PHOTO: AFP

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - Danish inventor Peter Madsen on Thursday (March 8) denied murdering Swedish journalist Kim Wall aboard his self-built submarine last year as his highly-anticipated trial opened in Copenhagen.

Madsen, who has previously admitted dismembering Ms Wall's body and throwing her remains overboard, did not address the court but his lawyer Betina Hald Engmark said he denied the murder charge and maintained his position that the reporter died accidentally on board his submarine.

Wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and black eyeglasses, Madsen appeared calm in court, his gaze often looking downwards.

The trial, scheduled to last until April 25, is expected to shed more light on the circumstances of Ms Wall's grisly death on board Madsen's Nautilus submarine on Aug 10 last year when she vanished after going for an evening sail with him to interview him for an article.

Her chopped up body parts, weighed down in plastic bags with metal objects, were later recovered from Danish waters off Copenhagen.

More than 100 journalists from around the world were in place to follow the opening day of the trial at the Copenhagen district court, also attended by members of Ms Wall's family.

Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen started by presenting his opening arguments to the court. He has previously said he will call for a life sentence, which in Denmark averages around 16 years.

An eccentric semi-celebrity in Denmark who built rockets and dreamed of developing private space travel, Madsen faces charges of premeditated murder, desecrating a corpse, and aggravated sexual assault.

Ms Wall was reported missing by her boyfriend after she failed to return home from her trip on the 18m vessel on Aug 10.

On that evening, the couple were having a going-away party - they were due to move to China a few days later - when Madsen, whom she had been trying to interview, contacted her and invited her out on the sub.

On a large screen in the courtroom, the prosecutor showed a series of text messages Ms Wall sent her boyfriend from inside the submarine that evening.

"I'm still alive btw (by the way)," she wrote, adding "But going down now!" and "I love you!!!!!!" A minute later, she added: "He brought coffee and cookies tho."

Madsen has changed his version of what happened on board several times. He has insisted her death was an accident but provided no explanation.

An autopsy was unable to determine her cause of death, nor has a motive been established.

But prosecutors have previously said they believe Madsen killed Ms Wall as part of a sexual fantasy.

They believe he bound the 30-year-old freelance reporter by the head, arms and legs before beating her and stabbing her repeatedly in her genital area.

They said he then killed her - probably strangling her or slitting her throat - and cut her up with a saw, stuffing her torso, head, arms and legs in separate bags weighed down with metal objects, and dumping them in Koge Bay off Copenhagen.

Madsen has denied any sexual relations with Ms Wall.

He told investigators he panicked after her death, dismembered her and buried her at sea.

According to the prosecution, investigators seized a hard drive in his workshop containing fetish films, in which women were tortured, decapitated and burned alive.

Madsen said the drive was not his.

When Ms Wall failed to return home from her interview, her boyfriend reported the Nautilus missing in the middle of the night.

Madsen was plucked from the sea the next morning by a pleasure craft, just as his vessel was sinking.

Investigators believe Madsen deliberately sank the Nautilus.

Ms Wall - who wrote about Chinese feminists rising up against US President Donald Trump's "misogyny" and Cubans using hard drives to access foreign culture - criss-crossed the globe in search of unique stories.

Shortly after her death, the Columbia Journalism School graduate's family and friends set up a fund in her name to help women journalists reporting on similar issues.

"This will be a way for everyone to focus on the future instead of it all ending that night on the submarine," her mother Ingrid Wall told Swedish TT news agency ahead of the trial.

"This means her legacy will live on."