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An Inside Look at Luka Magnotta's Bizarre Murder Trial in Canada

The former stripper and model's trial for murdering and dismembering a Chinese national is over, with Montreal jurors rejecting the claim that he was not mentally responsible for his crimes.

by Nick Rose
Dec 23 2014, 7:35pm

Sculpture of Luka Rocco Magnotta by Quebec artist Delphine Bergeron, via Twitter

After an eventful ten-week trial and eight days of deliberations, Luka Rocco Magnotta was dealt the harshest verdict possible on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old Toronto-born man has been found guilty of first-degree murder as well as the four other charges he was facing. Those include performing indignities on a human corpse, distributing obscene materials, using the postal service to distribute obscene materials, and criminal harassment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament when he mailed the body parts of 33-year-old exchange student Jun Lin to various politicians and schools across Canada.

For the murder charge, jurors had four possible verdicts to choose from: guilty of premeditated first-degree murder; guilty of second-degree murder; guilty of manslaughter; or—if they were convinced he suffered from a mental health illness at the time of the killing—not criminally responsible (NCR).

This first-degree verdict means that the jurors have agreed not only that Magnotta was sane when he killed Jun Lin, but also that the murder was carefully planned and premeditated.

VICE spoke with Montreal criminal defense attorney Eric Sutton, who was not surprised by the verdict.

"The only element of surprise was how long it took," he said. "The defense did not sufficiently carry the burden of proving that Magnotta was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the murder which rendered him incapable of understanding what he was doing. Magnotta was competent to testify but did not make himself available to the jury...for cross-examination."

Testifying could have helped the defense prove that he was hearing voices and suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the murder.

Diran Lin, father of Jun Lin.

Last week, Justice Guy Cournoyer instructed jurors that their job was to make an objective decision void of "sympathy, prejudice, or fear." But the bulk of Cournoyer's jury instructions revolved around the concept of NCR.

"Under our law, the verdict of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder is not a loose term, quite the contrary," Cournoyer told them. "There are specific criteria to determine whether the defense of mental disorder is applicable."

These criteria included the very complex issue of Magnotta's mental state at the time of the murder and whether or not that mental state prevented him from understanding his actions. This meant resolving the battle of psychiatrists who gave conflicting opinions and diagnoses of a young man with a long history of schizophrenia who also likely suffers from narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders.

Under Canadian law, a personality disorder alone is not sufficient to establish an NCR verdict because it does not render the accused incapable of understanding that what they are doing is wrong.

"There is no question that Magnotta suffers from a mental disorder," Eric Sutton says. "But the fact that it's a personality disorder is almost irrelevant from a legal perspective because the real issue is whether he could understand what he was doing when he murdered Jun Lin."

The legal issues in this case may have been technical but the trial itself was anything but cut-and-dried.

For starters, the proceedings took place in a unique and often spontaneous mix of English and French. During preliminary enquiry, before the trial even began, Jun Lin's father, Magnotta, and his lawyer Luc Leclair all broke down in tears on separate occasions. Leclair broke down again in October during a spur-of-the-moment press conference following the death of a lawyer who had worked on the case in its early stages.

Luka Magnotta's defense attorney Luc Leclair.

At trial, Magnotta—the once slim and pouty aspiring model seared into Canada's collective consciousness—was barely recognizable. The Luka Magnotta we saw in court was overweight, often sporting glasses and a five o'clock shadow. His body language was just as far removed from the confident postures and poses he struck in his infamous modeling auditions. When jurors were in the courtroom, he was almost catatonic and hunched over to the point of not being visible to those inside the room. Yet when the jury would leave in order to allow lawyers to discuss specific points of law or evidence, his head would often pop up from behind the prisoner's box, and he suddenly appeared animated and interested.

Another strange dimension to the trial was the recurring references to the 1992 film Basic Instinct. Magnotta had used the alias "Kirk Trammell" while he was a fugitive in Europe, and his laptop login name was "Catherine," an apparent ode to Sharon Stone's character Catherine Tramell. Also, despite using a screwdriver to stab Lin, Magnotta named his video depicting part of the killing "1 Lunatic 1 Icepick," which could be another shoutout to the film, wherein Stone famously ties up her victims and kills them with an ice pick during sex.

Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier

This would obviously suggest a high level of premeditation and lust for fame, as opposed to the uncontrollable psychotic episode proposed by his defense. But when prosecutor Louis Bouthillier tried to have Basic Instinct admitted into evidence to force jurors to watch it in order to support this thesis, Judge Cournoyer categorically refused, citing a lack of relevance while skewering the erotic thriller:

"It's unnecessary, it's time-consuming, and, to be plain, frank and honest, I fell asleep last night trying to watch it. This is not a movie which has withstood the test of time very nicely. It's such a bore."

Magnotta's lawyer, Luc Leclair, was prone to being late, dodging questions from the judge and making bizarre statements and demands like asking to go for a walk in the middle of proceedings.

His closing arguments, summing up the three-month trial, were expected to take the entire day but ended up lasting just over one hour, during which he told jurors to disregard all of the psychiatric reports they had seen, including the ones substantiating his client's NCR claim, and to come to their own conclusion.

He then showed the jury surveillance footage of Magnotta in his apartment building from the night of the murder and compared it to footage from a week earlier in order to somehow prove how difficult it is to detect a mentally ill person. Then he abruptly sat down. After an awkward silence Cournoyer asked him if we was finished his closing arguments. Yes, Leclair answered. And that was "case closed" for the defense.

Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier began his closing arguments by stating that he would be taking significantly longer than those of his colleague Leclair. He then spent an entire day going through the meticulous planning that he argued Magnotta undertook in the weeks leading up the Jun Lin's murder.

That additional time appears to have paid off as jurors unanimously agreed on a verdict of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison with no chance of parole.

Not surpisingly, this has come as a relief to Jun Lin's father, who issued a family impact statement saying: "I had come to see your trial system to see justice done and leave satisfied that you have not let my son down."

But he did not mince words when talking about his son's murderer.

"I had come to see remorse, to hear some form of apology, and I leave without anything," Lin said.