PARIS June 22, 2010 -- A grisly trial unfolding in France could have been scripted from the pages of a "Hannibal Lecter" novel.
Nicolas Cocaign, 38, a violent prison inmate with a face tattoo allegedly killed his cellmate with a pair of scissors, pulled out part of his left lung and some chest muscle and cooked them up with garlic, shallots and left over rice.
A third inmate in the cell pretended to be asleep to avoid being killed, but later committed suicide in another prison.
The trial of Cocaign, which began Monday, charges him with murder and acts of barbarism. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
On the morning of Jan. 3, 2007, a guard in the Rouen prison found the mutilated body of Thierry Baudry, 31, in the cell he shared with Cocaign and another inmate. Cocaign confessed to beating Baudry, stabbing him with scissors and suffocating him with a plastic bag before cutting open his victim's chest and plunging his right hand in it.
He told investigators he wanted to remove Baudry's heart to eat it in order to "take his soul." Instead, Cocaign mistakenly took a piece of his victim's left lung as well as two chest muscles. A row over hygiene issues was what triggered Cocaign's outburst of violence.
At the time, Cocaign was serving a sentence for attempted rape while armed, while Baudry was in prison for sexual assault.
At the opening of the trial Monday, Cocaign told the court he was responsible for the murder, but rejected the acts of barbarism charge. He said he now felt "stable" because he is receiving psychiatric treatment.
Cocaign's lawyer have argued that he should never been put in a jail cell due to his psychological state.
"Today, we get rid of people like Nicolas Cocaign by putting them in jail instead of putting them in a mental institution," Fabien Pichiottino told France 2 TV.
Prison Doctors Considered Nicolas Cocaign Extremely Dangerous
Doctors from a previous prison where Cocaign served time had reported his psychopathic side and his extreme dangerousness.
"(The doctor at this jail) had Cocaign's profile, he felt he was dangerous towards others. He even asked to be placed in isolation," Etienne Noel, lawyer for Thierry Baudry's family, told France 2. "And next to this, you had Thierry Baudry who everyone agrees was weak and would not have harmed a fly."
Cocaign, an abandoned child who has had several run-ins with the law, appeared in court with tattoos on the right half of his face showing bloody tears, a skull and an angel.
"A friend made them for me, so people would take interest in me. No one was listening to me. I made some calls for help, saying I was likely to be dangerous," he told the court. "I put my threats into action and I was taken seriously."
"There was no follow-up, nothing was done," his adoptive mother Genevieve Cocaign told the court. The fact that he was abandoned at birth by his mother had "disastrous consequences for him," the elderly lady said, despite numerous visits to psychiatrists and stays at mental institutions.
"I did everything I could, but nothing succeeded. What happened should not have taken place if he had been treated," Genevieve Cocaign said.
French prison authorities have admitted to a series of mismanagement and acts of negligence, but no serious mistake. Prison authorities will have to answer questions from the defense in court this week.
A verdict is expected later this week.