PARIS, June 25, 2010 -- A French prison inmate called the "cannibal of Rouen" by the media and "completely crazy" by his own lawyer has been convicted of killing his cell mate and then dining on the man's lung.
Before his sentence was handed down, fresh details of the grisly crime emerged.
A medical examiner testified that the victim was still alive when Cocaign cut open his chest. And Cocaign told the court that before cooking the man's left lung with shallots, garlic and some left over rice, he sampled the man's organ.
"At first, I ate a bit of it raw," Cocaign testified. "I did it out of curiosity, instinctively, without thinking, to taste human flesh."
The grisly four-day trial of Cocaign, a violent prison inmate with tattoos on his face, could have been scripted from the pages of a "Hannibal Lecter" novel.
On the morning of Jan. 3, 2007, a guard in the Rouen prison found the mutilated body of Thierry Baudry, 31, in the 118-square feet 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 with a razor blade and plunging his right hand in it.
"We got into an argument last night. I 'smoked' him" while tying his shoes," Cocaign calmly told the guard Frederic R. who testified in court this week. "Smoked him" is French prison slang for a killing.
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.
A third inmate in the cell pretended to be asleep to avoid being killed, but later committed suicide in another prison.
Cocaign's lawyer asked the court to pronounce his client's "criminal irresponsibility" and find him "not guilty" because of his mental state.
"He killed because he is crazy, completely crazy," defense lawyer Fabien Picchiottino pleaded. "One does not put on trial insane people. The place of these people suffering from troubles is in a psychiatric hospital," he said. The lawyer blamed Cocaign's murderous impulse on the "failure of the psychiatric, penitentiary and social system".
Lawyer for "Cannibal" Argues He Is Insane
"A man who plunges into horror is not inevitably suffering from folly," prosecutor Elisabeth Pelsez told the court, according to court proceedings relayed in the French media. She maintained that the discernment of the accused at the time of the facts was "altered," but not "abolished."
"His place is in prison," she said, underlying the need to "protect the society" and to "prevent risks of repetition."
At the time of the murder, 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.
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 Baudry's family, told France 2 TV at the start of the trial on Monday. "And next to this, you had Thierry Baudry who everyone agrees was weak and would not have harmed a fly."
Before the murder of Baudry, Cocaign had been confined to a mental hospital on six occasions and he had asked to be put in isolation shortly before the murder. 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.
Cannibal of Rouen Must Decide Whether to Appeal Murder Conviction
"I did everything I could, but nothing succeeded. What happened should not have taken place if he had been treated," Genevieve Cocaign said.
Before the jury went into deliberations, Cocaign addressed the mother, three sisters and brother of the victim, Thierry Baudry."I want to excuse myself before the Baudry family," he said, "if they accept my apology."
French prison authorities have admitted to a series of mismanagement and acts of negligence, but no serious mistake. Prison authorities were criticized during the trial for placing a vulnerable inmate in the same cell as Cocaign.
Nicolas Cocaign has now 10 days to decide whether to lodge an appeal.