LONDON — Life in prison, with parole possible after 20 years. That was the sentence handed down Wednesday to a Saudi prince convicted of a killing so lurid it has shocked even London, with its long history of tawdry sex crimes dating back to Jack the Ripper.
The victim, Bandar Abdulaziz, had so many internal injuries, including bleeding on the brain and a fractured larynx, that pathologists could not pinpoint the precise cause of death after his body was found in the posh Landmark Hotel.
The killer was a Saudi prince who tried in vain to hide his homosexuality from the court and had been filmed on a closed-circuit camera mercilessly beating the victim – his paid manservant – in the hotel elevator.
The frenzied killing, and the erotic nude photos of the victim found on the prince's mobile phone, have embarrassed the Saudi royal family, which has refused to comment on the matter. The case is not receiving press attention inside Saudi Arabia.
Justice David Bean told the killer, Prince Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Saud, that no man, even a royal, was above the law. He said it would be wrong for him to allow the prince's royal status to influence the severity of the sentence.
The judge said Saud had cruelly taken advantage of Abdulaziz before killing him in a rage.
"You killed Abdulaziz in the course of a sustained and ferocious assault," Bean said. "You were in a position of domination over him, as demonstrated both by the lift (elevator) incident and by the sexually explicit photographs you took of him, at some point prior to Feb. 15, which were found on your mobile phone. Abdulaziz was a vulnerable victim, entirely subjugated to your will. You were in a position of authority and trust over him which you exploited ruthlessly."
The sensational case featured CCTV images of the shaven-headed prince throwing punches at his aide in a hotel elevator – the basis of the prosecution claim that the suave playboy prince battered his servant in a rage following years of abuse.
The attack left the aide's ear swollen to three times the normal size and "beyond medical treatment."
Bean said the most chilling aspect of the case was Abdulaziz's acceptance of the vicious beating.
"He was so completely subservient to you that after being treated as a human punchbag he followed you meekly out of the lift," the judge said, adding that Saud did not try to help Abdulaziz after inflicting fatal injuries and instead tried to concoct a cover story.
"If you had any remorse you would have sought medical help immediately. But you were only concerned for yourself," Bean said.
The killing took place in their shared room at the Landmark Hotel in London on Feb. 15.
Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw described an extravagant lifestyle with a dashing prince who lived the luxury life – dining in fine restaurants and receiving erotic massages from a masseur who compared him to Hollywood actor Omar Sharif. Laidlaw described the prince as sadistic and abusive.
"Beneath the surface this was a deeply abusive relationship which the defendant exploited for sadistic reasons, for his own personal gratification," he said.
Jenny Hopkins, head of the Homicide Unit for the Crown Prosecution Service in London, said after the sentencing that Saud had tried to portray the victim as his equal and his friend but that witnesses testified that Abdulaziz was a servant engaged in a sexual relationship with the prince.
Saud did not flinch as the judge described the injuries he had inflicted on the "subservient" Abdulaziz.
His father, Prince Abdulaziz, looked on gravely from the public gallery.
Saud originally told police that he and Abdulaziz had been drinking champagne into the early hours of the morning, and that when he awoke at 3 p.m. he could not rouse Abdulaziz.
Prosecutors said Abdulaziz was killed between 1:40 a.m. and 2:40 a.m. and that the prince spent the next 12 hours on the phone trying to figure out what options he had.
The jury had deliberated just 95 minutes before returning its verdict. The prince was convicted of both murder, which took place in the hotel room, and a second count of inflicting grievous bodily harm stemming from the earlier attack in the elevator.
Jurors rejected a claim by his defense lawyer, John Kelsey-Fry, that the prince was guilty only of manslaughter.
The prince's grandfather is the half brother of the current Saudi king.
Peter Tatchell, a gay rights activist who works with Make Justice Work, a penal reform group, said he was pleased the prince was not allowed to evade justice by claiming diplomatic immunity.
He said that if Saud is ever released from prison he would likely seek asylum in Britain rather than return to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals receive harsh treatment.
"He's also likely to be at risk of severe retribution for bringing disgrace to the Saudi royal family," Tatchell said.
Since the prince's arrest, Saudi officials have said nothing about the case, and Saudi newspapers and television have not even mentioned it, a sign of how embarrassing the trial has been for the royal family.
Media in the kingdom strictly avoid any discussion of the private lives of members of the royal family – particularly if they would be cast in a negative light.
The prince's lawyers did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the case.
Associated Press Writers Danica Kirka and Benjamin Timmins in London and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this story.