French cannibal trial spotlights jail 'failures'
France's troubled prison system came under scrutiny Tuesday at the trial of a prisoner who killed his cellmate and devoured his lung.
The court will hear findings from a report into a string of "failures" at the detention centre in the northwestern city of Rouen where Nicolas Cocaign sliced open his cellmate and ripped out his lung in January 2007.
The 39-year-old inmate is charged with the murder of Thierry Baudry, whom he punched, stabbed with a pair of scissors and suffocated with a rubbish bag before cutting him open with a razor blade.
After removing a rib, Cocaign pulled out a lung, which he mistook for his victim's heart, ate part of it raw and then fried the rest of it with onions on a makeshift stove in his cell, prosecutors say.
On the first day of the trial, Cocaign testified that authorities ignored his many appeals for psychological help even though he had a long history of mental illness.
"No one was listening to me," the bearded and tattooed detainee told the court. "I made several appeals for help, saying I was a man capable of being dangerous. I took action, and then they took me seriously."
The prison's director, Yves Bidet, will take the witness stand on Tuesday after a coroner confirmed the circumstances of Baudry's death by multiple stab wounds and strangulation.
"Everything that Nicolas Cocaign said has been confirmed by our observations and the autopsy," said chief coroner Pierre Bohers.
The Baudry family lawyer suggested that conditions at the Rouen jail were also partly to blame for the gruesome murder.
Cocaign allegedly committed the crime following a dispute with Baudry over the cell's hygiene and accusations that Baudry had plugged up the toilet with rolls of paper.
There were three men sharing the small cell where the murder took place and severe overcrowding has been regularly cited as a problem in French jails.
"How was it bearable for three people to share a cell of 11 square metres?" said lawyer Etienne Noel, representing the Baudry family.
Mental health experts are to testify during the course of the trial this week as to whether Cocaign was sufficiently sane to face criminal charge for his acts. A verdict is expected on Thursday.
Born in 1971, Cocaign was abandoned by his 21-year-old homeless mother and cared for by the state until he was adopted aged three. From the age of six he was already under the care of a psychologist.
Reports from his childhood suggest he had difficulty telling right from wrong and his mental difficulties worsened when he was allegedly raped, aged 13. After this he developed "violent sexual compulsions".
He was convicted of drug possession when he was 22 and later hospitalised on several occasions with mental illness. He complained to the court that he was not given drug treatment after release, despite asking for it.
"My compulsions were still there, so ..." he said.
Cocaign was serving time for several rape convictions and other violent offences.
© 2010 AFP