The murder trial for Kim Wall, the Swedish journalist who went missing in August 2017 while reporting on Danish submarine inventor Peter Madsen, officially began in Copenhagen on Thursday. Madsen, who is charged with murdering and dismembering Wall, plead not guilty.
Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen, who has described the trial as “unusual and extremely brutal,” is pushing for Madsen to receive a life sentence—the most severe sentence in Denmark, according to The Guardian. Madsen’s lawyer Betina Hald Engmark said in court that he denies voluntary manslaughter, but admits to indecent handling of a corpse.
Madsen has changed his story regarding the circumstances of Kim Wall’s death several times, and told the court when he took the stand on Thursday that he did so to keep Wall’s family from knowing the details of her death. He first told authorities she had left his submarine safe and then later admitted, after parts of her body were found, that he had dismembered her and thrown her body into the Koge Bay. He also said that she had suffered a head injury, but there were no signs of head trauma when her head was found. Madsen still maintains that Wall died by accident due to carbon monoxide poisoning, which investigators previously said is not supported by the forensic evidence available.
The Guardian reports that the prosecution believes Madsen killed Wall to fulfill sexual fantasies and that the murder was pre-planned considering the materials he brought on the trip, including a saw, knife, plastic strips, and metal tubing. Buch-Jepsen also presented in court the fact that traces of Madsen’s semen were found in his underwear after his arrest, that Wall’s blood was found under Madsen’s nostrils and he had scratches under his underarms, and that Madsen had in the months before Wall’s arrival searched the Internet for videos of women being beheaded.
The trial will continue over 12 days in March and April, with a verdict expected for April 25. In the months since Wall’s death fellow reporters and friends across journalism have written pieces and tributes to her work, as well as several awards for journalists in her name, and with it questions about the safety of women journalists in the field. In her story “The Final, Terrible Voyage of the Nautilus,” colleague and friend May Jeong writes of a particularly heartbreaking and familiar exchange with Wall:
Lately I have been thinking about a question Kim posed in a series of texts last spring:
3/14/17, 7:43 am: Kim Wall: i only have questions
3/14/17, 7:43 am: Kim Wall: about agency as a woman
3/14/17, 7:43 am: Kim Wall: and if we will ever be free, no matter what we do
3/14/17, 7:43 am: Kim Wall: (leaning towards no 😔 )
“In the four months I spent on this story, I did things that in other circumstances might have seemed foolish. I went on long drives at night with sources. I met strangers on their doorsteps and entered their homes,” Jeong writes. “In stepping onto that submarine, Kim was doing what any reporter onto a good story would have done.”
Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Kim Wall went missing in August 2018, not August 2017. Jezebel regrets the error.