An initial charge of murder against the 30-year-old New Yorker identified only as James B., an alcoholic, was dismissed because he was extremely drunk when he attacked the Austrian man in a Berlin flat.
But judge Ralph Ehestädt told the defendant that his was a crime of exceptional savagery.
“One cannot conceive of a more brutal act than splitting open a man’s skull,” he said, jailing him for ten years and six months. He also noted that the American had failed to show any signs of remorse.
James B. attacked his fellow tattooist last July after a drunken argument. He dismembered the body with a saw and axe and threw the remains in suitcases into the River Spree.
The American had previously spent five years in a US jail for a stabbing. He had only been living in Berlin for just six months at the time of the killing – but his residency permit had already expired.
The motive for the crime remains a mystery. James B. admitted his crime but told police he could only remember getting into a fight with his colleague – he could not explain how it had reached its barbaric conclusion.
The man will initially spend two years in a detoxification clinic to deal with his alcoholism before serving the rest of his sentence in jail.
The victim’s brother was a joint plaintiff in the proceedings but chose not to attend the sentencing. The family’s attorney Anne Forkel said on his behalf: “No sentence can atone for the taking of a life.”
Forkel also disclosed that the family was “shattered” by the meagre punishment handed down to the killer’s erstwhile girlfriend, who had helped to dispose of the victim’s head. Obstruction of justice charges against her were dismissed in exchange for a fine of €1,000.