Europe

Toulouse woman goes on trial accused of dismembering colleague

The Canal du Midi, Toulouse, France Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Body parts were found in plastic bags in the Canal du Midi, Toulouse

A woman has gone on trial in Toulouse accused of murdering and dismembering a work colleague and dumping the body parts in a canal.

Sophie Masala, 55, was arrested in May 2016, two weeks after the victim was battered to death with a wine bottle.

Ms Masala has already confessed to killing Marilyne Planche, 52, during a fight at the victim's apartment.

Ms Planche's limbs were found in plastic bags in the Canal du Midi. Her torso was found in a suitcase nearby.

Prosecutors said Ms Masala, who faces a life sentence, developed a "hatred" of Ms Planche stemming from "professional jealousy".

Ms Planche had been working for years at a job-placement service for disabled people. Ms Masala, from Montpellier, at the time of the murder had been working there for a few months.

While admitting to attacking Ms Planche, Ms Masala has denied that she meant to kill the victim. Psychiatrists who examined the accused - a mother of two - found her to be mentally fit to stand trial.

The lawyer representing the victim's family said it was an "unprecedented and horrible affair" and showed "extraordinary inhumanity", France's Sud-Ouest newspaper reported.

How events unfolded

According to police reports, on 12 May 2016 Ms Masala went to Ms Planche's apartment in Toulouse. Ms Planche lived alone and was described by colleagues as a conscientious and helpful worker.

Police said an argument ensued between the two. A neighbour reported hearing "cries" before witnessing Ms Masala tugging at the victim's hair.

Ms Masala is accused of entering Ms Planche's apartment and striking her over the head with a full wine bottle. She then allegedly left her victim on the floor and returned to Montpellier, where her husband and two children, in their 20s, were living.

A few days later, it is alleged, she returned to the flat with a hacksaw and a ceramic knife. The investigation found that the bags with body parts had been taken to the canal in a supermarket trolley and the victim's head was carried in a rucksack.

On 22 May, Ms Planche's sister filed a missing persons report. Two days later, a passerby called the police after discovering a human body part near a footbridge over the Canal du Midi.

In the days that followed, police retrieved five bin bags containing human limbs. The victim was identified as Ms Planche on 26 May, according to French news outlet France Bleu.

Ms Planche's head was later found buried in the garden next to Ms Masala's small flat in Toulouse. An autopsy report said Ms Planche died from "a fatal skull fracture".

The trial is expected to end on Friday 25 October.

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