With one word, Luka Magnotta began what promises to be one of the longest and tawdriest trials in Canadian legal history.
“Okay,” Magnotta uttered in a low, soulless voice, after his lawyer Pierre Panaccio informed him that the two would talk later today. It was the sole word he uttered publicly, because the big question of the day was apparently answered before he appeared via videolink for his hearing in a packed Montreal courtroom. Magnotta pleaded not guilty to five counts, including first degree murder, desecration of a corpse, dissemination of obscene material and harassment of the Prime Minister of Canada. Magnotta, profiled by Maclean’s two weeks ago, allegedly videotaped himself killing Chinese university student Jun Lin, cutting up his body, sampling his flesh, and sending the pieces to both Conservative and Liberal Party headquarters in Ottawa, as well as British Columbia private school, where Magnotta’s brief gay pornography apparently began in 2003.
Stripped of the illusions of grandeur he himself propagated online for years, Magnotta looked tired and resigned as he was led into a holding cell located in the northern scrapes of Montreal. Wearing a thin brown sweater, his arms locked in handcuffs in front of him, he stood motionless as Judge Lori-Renée Weitzman, prosecutors Louis Bouthillier, Hélène Di Salvo and his lawyer Panaccio discussed the alleged murderer and cannibal’s coming days. He will appear again, via the same videolink in the same courtroom, on Thursday, where he will likely be remanded to a psychiatric facility to undergo an evaluation to see if he can be deemed criminally responsible for the alleged crimes. The process took all of three minutes, and belied the worldwide attention the case has generated.
“This is a case that will have added pressure because of the media attention, and be complicated by the length of the police investigation,” Di Salvo said at a press conference following Magnotta’s appearance. Asked if the she and Bouthillier had girded themselves for the mounds of disturbing evidence, including the 11-minute video “1 lunatic 1 ice pick” posted to an Edmonton-based gore site, Di Salvo calmly responded, “We will take the time to watch, and take the time we need to get through it.”
Di Salvo is no stranger to gruesome murder trials. In 2007, she successfully prosecuted the two men who killed Shane Jimrattie, a resident of Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood. After killing Jimattie with some 40 hammer blows, Michel Côté and Nadège Merceus chopped his body into quarters and were in the process of loading them into Côté’s car when the police arrived.
For his part, Louis Bouthillier is a seasoned prosecutor who has “been handling murder cases in Montreal for the past 15 years,” as he put it.
Magnotta’s lawyer is a colourful character. He is perhaps best known for having defended three Hells Angels members during the so-called “Biker Mega-trial” that began in 2002. In 2010, he was recused from the trial because one of his former clients, Martin Roy, was a biker-turned-informer. Panaccio, who was also Roy’s landlord, had threatened to reveal Roy’s informer status to his fellow bikers when the latter was behind on his rent. A judge ruled that Panaccio couldn’t fulfill his duty of loyalty to Roy.
Magnotta’s will be a jury by trial–something that doesn’t appear to phase Bouthillier. “Juries have been handling tough matters in this country for hundreds of years, and I fail to see why they could not handle the matter in this case. Sure, it’s going to be a difficult case, but they are all difficult cases. When you speak of murders, they’re always difficult cases for the juries. This matter is not different than any other.”
Unfortunately for many, the trial will serve as yet another soapbox for Magnotta, who has cultivated his online image and infamy for years. Yet if he was waiting for a raucous, media-saturated arrival in Montreal from Germany, from where he was extradited, he was surely disappointed. He touched down on Monday at 10:49 in the morning at Mirabel Airport. He descended the Canadian government’s Airbus CC-150 in white sneakers, black jeans, a pea-green long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of handcuffs linked to waistchains roped around his beltline. As always he looked pale, though the affected stare he put on for the many pictures he took of himself was gone, replaced by what looked like simple exhaustion. Nevertheless we saw a flash of the self-satisfied Magnotta of yore as he was being shovelled into the back of a police van: composed, even smug, even as he was driven off in a police cortege to face charges of first degree murder and the descecration of a corpse.
Sad, though, for a person as venally addicted to himself that he landed at Mirabel and not Dorval. Mirabel, Quebec’s white elephant, has been largely abandoned for a decade. Only cows, and a few news photographers, marked his departure to Montreal.