Danish Lutheran priest expected to confess to murdering wife

Thomas Gotthard, the Danish Lutheran priest seized by police last October, three weeks after his wife's disappearance, is expected to confess in court today to murdering her, meaning he could be found guilty as early as this afternoon.

Danish Lutheran priest expected to confess to murdering wife
Until last month Thomas Gotthard maintained his innocence. Photo: Nordsjællands Politi/Ritzau Scanpix

“The accused is expected to give a full account about what happened, and we hope and expect that the case will be decided with a confession case later in the day,” Gotthard’s defence lawyer Jesper Storm Thygesen, told TV2 on Tuesday morning.

After the hearing began at 9.15am, both the defence and prosecution called for it to be held behind closed doors to avoid prejudicing the full trial, which has been scheduled for October if the 44-year-old does not make a full confession.

The media organisations present called for the hearing to be held in public, but the judge granted the request. 

Gotthard told police last year that his wife, psychologist Maria From Jakobsen, had left the couple’s house in a depressed state, leaving her phone and bank cards behind.

But he was taken into custody three weeks later after police found caustic soda and hydrochloric acid in the couple’s house and discovered that he had searched for terms like “sea depth,” “oil barrels,” “suicide,” “disappeared” and “cleaning” on the family computer.

He has since been suspended from his position as a parish priest.

Police have also documented how Gotthard cleaned his car on October 26th, the day of his wife’s disappearance, and found CCTV footage showing him on November 6th disposing of a big blue plastic barrel at the recycling centre in Frederikssund, the town where the couple lived.

Both before, on the day, and afterwards, Gotthard drove around the area in Brønshøj, where Jakobsen’s car was found on October 30th, without being able to give any explanation for the journeys.

In June, police reported that investigators had found remains of Jakobsen close to the couple’s home, describing the discovery as “of great importance to the case.”

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Denmark’s sexual consent law ‘used as intended’ in first two years

A review of Denmark’s new sexual consent law by the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions (Rigsadvokat) has concluded that it has been used as intended in the two years since it was brought into the statutes. 

Denmark’s sexual consent law ‘used as intended’ in first two years

The law, which requires both parties to give their consent before sexual intercourse takes place, came into force on January 1st, 2021.

It means that sex with a person who has not given consent will automatically be considered rape in legal trials.

READ ALSO: Danish parliament passes landmark bill to reform law around rape (2020)

“During the past two years, we have seen convictions in cases where the victim has been passive during a sexual assault, which is within the newly criminalized area, where the starting point for the punishment level is one year and two months,”  Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Jessika Auken said in a press statement.

In other cases, courts have found that the accused was not aware that consent had not been given. In those cases, the accused was acquitted, Auken said.

“Our review of case law shows that the law has been applied as intended,” she said.

Under the previous law, conviction under rape laws required the victim to have been subjected to force, violence or threats or to have been in a state of defencelessness.

The number of rape convictions has increased since the new law took effect, as has the number of reports of rape and charges pressed. There were 1,396 reports of rape filed with police in 2020, the last year under the old law, compared to 2,172 in 2021. Charges increased from 1,079 to 1,695 in the same period.

The number of convictions was between 178 and 255 per year in the period 2018-2020 according to newspaper Politiken, rising to 309 in the first half of 2022 alone.

The law has not been universally welcomed, with sceptics having expressed concern that it could lead to false accusations.

These concerns are not backed by research, an expert from the University of Copenhagen has said.

“It could of course occur that somebody regrets having sex with somebody, but research does not support that this should be a cause of false police reports,” law professor Trine Baumbech said in a news article on the University of Copenhagen website in February.

The chairperson of the National Association of Defence Lawyers (Landsforeningen for Forsvarsadvokater), Kristian Mølgard, said in previous comments to broadcaster DR that the law could be a problem if it moves the burden of proof to the accused.

“You risk convicting someone who objectively shouldn’t be convicted because they were unable demonstrate in a sufficiently convincing way that they did nothing wrong in a situation,” he said.

The Public Prosecutions office focused on the new law until the end of 2022 with the objective of observing how it is used in practice and the extent of sentencing. This can give prosecutors a better understanding of how the concept of consent is applied under the law, Auken said.