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Luka Magnotta Might Not Go to Prison

Luka Magnotta committed one of the most gruesome murders in recent Canadian history. That's not in dispute, but his mental state is.

The courthouse where Luka Magnotta's trial took place. Photos by Nick Rose.

On Tuesday, jurors in Montreal began deliberations in the most gruesome and highly publicized Canadian murder case in recent memory. By now we all know Luka Rocco Magnotta as the aspiring model turned gay porn star who made global headlines in 2012 following an international manhunt that led to him being charged with first-degree murder and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper by mailing him Jun Lin's foot in pink wrapping-paper.


Unlike most murder trials, the issue is not whether Luka Magnotta killed 33-year-old exchange student Jun Lin—he's already admitted to that. But Magnotta has still pleaded not guilty. The jury will instead have to determine whether or not he is criminally responsible for his actions.

Canadian law says that if you're suffering from a mental disorder so severe that you can't understand the crime you are committing, you cannot be held criminally responsible. If you are not criminally responsible (or NCR for short) for an offense, you don't go to prison.

A similar analogy is that in Canada, children under the age of 12 cannot be convicted of crimes they have committed. The logic is that they are incapable of fully grasping their actions. That's not a loophole; it's common sense.

But given how sadistic Magnotta's crimes are, an NCR verdict is likely to piss off a lot of people in the public who don't really understand what an NCR verdict means in the first place.

The most infamous evidence is the video Magnotta uploaded called "1 Lunatic 1 Icepick," which clearly shows him stabbing Lin with a screwdriver before decapitating him. He then proceeds to eat the dismembered body parts and perform deranged sex acts with them, all to the tune of New Order's "True Faith."

The footage is so horrific that there have been concerns of jurors developing post-traumatic stress disorder from watching it during the ten-week murder trial. But "1 Lunatic 1 Icepick" was not Magnotta's first brush with internet notoriety. Nor was it his first brush with the mental health system.


Court documents from 2005 show a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia dating back to Magnotta's late teens, and a barrage of prescriptions for anti-psychotic medication. The psychiatrist who treated Magnotta while he was institutionalized ends the letter with a warning: "if [Magnotta] does not comply in taking the medication, he would be prone to relapse of his symptoms, which include paranoia, auditory hallucinations, fear of the unknown etc." This is exactly what Magnotta's lawyer Luc Leclair says happened the night of May 24th 2012 when Jun Lin replied to a Craigslist ad for sex and bondage.

According to a 127-page psychiatric evaluation commissioned by his lawyer—the closest thing we'll get to Magnotta actually testifying in this case—their evening began with Luka being tied up and Lin initiating "rough" anal sex. When he asked Lin to slow down he instead started hitting him behind the head. After Lin untied him, the document states that Magnotta noticed a black car that he thought was spying on him since he had participated in student protests in Montreal that spring.

Magnotta's defense lawyer, Luc Leclair.

All of this, the defense claims, triggered a psychotic episode in which voices in his head told Magnotta that Lin was a spy and that Magnotta had to kill him and send his body parts back to the government, which is why he says he mailed Lin's foot to Prime Minister Harper.

"I don't enjoy having sex with a dead body," Magnotta told forensic psychiatrist Dr. Marie-Frédérique Allard, who evaluated him. "I gave myself up to this bizarre energy, it's scary how I could do that."


Allard's report also paints a pretty awful picture of his childhood. His father was also diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and left the home when Luka was 12. In the report, his mother, who he called "a fucking bitch," was an alcoholic who routinely locked him in a closet and would not let him go to school. The report goes on to say that in his teens, he was allegedly sexually assaulted by both his cousin and stepfather.

Dr. Allard, the defense's star witness, concluded that Luka Rocco Magnotta was definitely suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the murder and should be found NCR.

However, the prosecution is not buying it and says that Magnotta, ever the performer, is putting on an act.

VICE was inside the high-security courtroom as Superior Court Judge Guy Cournoyer heard the Crown's arguments.

Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier argued that Magnotta probably suffers from a broader personality disorder such as narcissistic personality, which would mean that at the time of the murder, he was more than capable of understanding his actions. Bouthillier further argued that Magnotta was actually motivated by a sick need for fame, which could explain why he filmed his crime and shared it with the world.

Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier.

With such conflicting narratives, this case has basically become a battle of expert witnesses, a battle the jury will ultimately have to decide one way or the other. It's important to note that juries in the past have not hesitated to come to an NCR verdict in grisly murder cases.


In 2008, Vincent Li decapitated and ate pieces of his seatmate on a Greyhound bus because Li thought he was an alien. At trial, he claimed to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and the jury found him NCR. He has been in a mental hospital ever since—but is now free to take unsupervised day trips into Selkirk, Manitoba after a provincial mental health review board decided that he was no longer a threat to society.

In 2009, Quebec cardiologist Guy Turcotte stabbed his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter 46 times. He argued that he was NCR because he was suffering from severe depression and could not understand his actions at the time of the murder. The jury believed him, and Turcotte was released from a psychiatric hospital just over a year after being admitted. He has been ordered to live with his uncle for now and will continue to do so pending a retrial.

This is not to say that convincing a jury that a violent offender is NCR is a simple task, because it's not.

VICE spoke with Université de Montréal law professor Hugues Parent, an expert in mental health and criminal law who worked on the Guy Turcotte trial in 2011. He said:

"An NCR defense is one of the very few instances in criminal law where the burden of proof is actually on the accused, which means that it is much harder for the defense to make its case, especially since Magnotta refused to be evaluated by the Crown's psychiatrist.


"Public reaction to the Li and Turcotte cases was so strong that it forced the Conservative government to tighten the whole review process by making 'public safety' the paramount important factor to consider. These crimes are typically pretty violent and the public has a lot of trouble dealing with that."

Anita Szigeti agrees. She is a lawyer and chair of Toronto's Criminal Lawyers Association Committee on Mental Health.

"The propaganda people tend to hear that these people are 'getting away with murder' or 'walking,'" she says. "But the reality is that NCR is not really a defense but a special verdict; you are not acquitted or convicted. It's a stream unto itself. And unlike prison, individuals who are NCR can be monitored perpetually and indefinitely."

So it's not like Magnotta will just walk out of the courtroom a free man if he is found to be NCR. He would be turned over to a provincial mental health board that usually detains NCR individuals for even longer than if they had gone to prison.

And while it's obvious to most people why an 11-year-old shouldn't be criminally held responsible for their actions, it's often much harder to sympathize with a disturbed adult like Luka Rocco Magnotta, whose defense is using the same argument as the 11-year-old after confessing to a horrible crime. But mental health advocates argue that people with schizophrenia are struggling with a brutal disease and they deserve forgiveness and compassion, even when they kill people.

At this point, whether or not Magnotta was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he killed Jun Lin is not up to a psychiatrist, lawyers or even the judge in this case to decide. It's up to the twelve men and women of the jury who won the lottery for shittiest job of 2014.

And when they do reach a verdict, whatever it may be, it's important to keep in mind that our system is not only designed to protect society from mentally ill people. It also has to protect mentally ill people, with treatable conditions like schizophrenia, from the cesspool of rape and recidivism that is our prison system.

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