Moosbrugger has killed a destitute prostitute with a fury of knife strokes. At his trial he appears anything but a psychopath with his friendly, open look of a genial dog.
The Moosbrugger case was currently much in the news. Moosbrugger was a carpenter, a big man with broad shoulders and no excess fat on him, a head of hair like brown lamb’s wool, and good-natured strong paws. His face also expressed a good-natured strength and right-mindedness, qualities one would have smelled (had one not seen them) in the blunt, plain, dry workaday smell that belonged to this thirty-four-year-old man and came from the wood he worked with and a job that called as much for mindfulness as for exertion.
Anyone who came up against this face for the first time, a face blessed by God with every sign of goodness, would stop as if rooted to the spot, because Moosbrugger was usually flanked by two armed guards, his hands shackled with a small, strong steel chain, its grip held by one of his escorts. (I,67)
Ulrich is immediately fascinated by this man, for reasons he cannot yet understand.
When Ulrich first laid eyes on that face with its signs of being a child of God above handcuffs, he quickly turned around, slipped a few cigarettes to the sentry at the nearby court building, and asked him about the convoy that had apparently just left the gates; he was told…Well, anyway, this is how something of the sort must have happened in earlier times, since it is often reported this way, and Ulrich almost believed it himself; but the contemporary truth was that he had merely read all about it in the newspaper. It was to be a long time before he met Moosbrugger in person, and before that happened he caught sight of him only once during the trial. The probability of experiencing something unusual through the newspaper is much greater than that of experiencing it in person; in other words, the more important things take place today in the abstract, and the more trivial ones in real life. (I,68-69)
Moosbrugger may not be all that different from the rest of us.
Moosbrugger asserted that he could not possibly be a sex murderer, because these females had inspired only feelings of aversion in him. This is not implausible–we think we understand a cat, for instance, sitting in front of a cage staring up at a fat, fair canary hopping up and down, or batting a mouse, letting it go, then batting it again, just to see it run away once more; and what is a dog running after a bicycle, biting at it only in play–man’s best friend? There is in this attitude toward the living, moving, silently rolling or flitting fellow-creature enjoying its own existence something that suggests a deep innate aversion to it. And then what could one do when she started screaming? One could only come to one’s senses, or else, if one simply couldn’t do that, press her face to the ground and stuff earth into her mouth. (I,70)
We know already that Ulrich is inclined to position a criminal act in a higher view of society’s shared responsibility. He develops this philosophical view here.
Ulrich was especially taken with the fact that Moosbrugger’s defense was evidently based on some dimly discernible principle. He had not gone out with intent to kill, nor did his dignity permit him to plead insanity. There could be no question of lust as a motive–he had felt only disgust and contempt. The act could accordingly only be called manslaughter, to which he had been induced by the suspicions conduct of “this caricature of a woman,” as he put it. If one understood him rightly, he even wanted the killing to be regarded as a political crime, and he sometimes gave the impression that he was fighting not for himself but for this view of the legal issue. (I,75)
Of course there was the matter of the blood on the hands, the knife thrown away, the change into fresh clothes.
The judge added it all up, starting with the police record and the vagrancy, and presented it as Moosbrugger’s guilt, while to Moosbrugger it was a series of completely separate incidents having nothing to do with one another, each of which had a different cause that lay outside Moosbrugger somewhere in the world as a whole. In the judge’s eyes, Moosbrugger was the source of his acts; in Moosbrugger’s eyes they had perched on him like birds that had flown in from somewhere or other. To the judge, Moosbrugger was a special case; for himself he was a universe, and it was very hard to say something convincing about a universe. Two strategies were here locked in combat, two integral positions, two sets of logical consistency. (I,75)
Moosbrugger is sentenced to death.
Even as the guards were leading him out, he turned around, struggling for words, raised his hands in the air, and cried out, in a voice that shook him free of his guards’ grip: “I am satisfied, even though I must confess to you that you have condemned a madman.”
This was a non sequitur, but Ulrich sat there breathless. This was clearly madness, and just as clearly it was no more than a distortion of our own elements of being. Cracked and obscure it was; it somehow occurred to Ulrich that if mankind could dream as a whole, that dream would be Moosbrugger. (I,76-77)