Lawyers for Luka Rocco Magnotta seeking to ban media and public from hearing

MONTREAL – Lawyers for the man accused of murdering a Chinese student and dismembering his body want the media and public barred from his preliminary hearing.

The evidence presented Monday supporting the motion by lawyers for Luka Rocco Magnotta is subject to a publication ban.

Magnotta’s legal team, led by Toronto-based lawyer Luc Leclair, argue the only people who should be allowed to remain in the courtroom are the prosecutors, the judge and a court clerk.

They say it’s necessary to guarantee Magnotta a fair trial.

Clad from head to toe in white, Magnotta sat impassively and quietly, with his arms folded in his lap. His feet and hands were shackled and he was in a glass box that was sealed off from the rest of the courtroom.

He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the slaying of Jun Lin last May. The preliminary hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to send him to trial.

His court dates have usually come with a heavy media presence — and Monday’s was no different.

A handful of journalists were able to cram into a high-security room, with as many 30 people in a spill-over room in another part of the courthouse. Some media members lined up before the crack of dawn to get inside.

Photographers and videographers waited inside and outside the courthouse, filming and photographing a prison detention bus as it rolled into the courthouse garage.

Those present at the courthouse included Daran Lin, the victim’s father, who travelled from China. He was accompanied by a translator.

A lawyer representing Lin’s parents said he supports the media’s fight to keep the hearing open.

Mark Bantey, a lawyer representing several media organizations, said the automatic publication ban that comes with a preliminary hearing is sufficient.

“That publication ban, which covers all the evidence, is more than sufficient to protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial and there’s no need to exclude the public and journalists from courtroom,” Bantey said outside the courtroom.

Bantey said requesting that reporters and the public be barred is “highly unusual.”

“The open court principle is a hallmark of our democratic society and it should be respected and only in highly exceptional cases should the public be excluded,” said Bantey.

Quebec court Judge Lori-Renee Weitzman is expected to rule on the matter Tuesday morning.

Authorities named Magnotta as a suspect after the severed remains of Lin, who was studying at Montreal’s Concordia University, were mailed to the Ottawa offices of the federal Conservatives and the federal Liberals along with two Vancouver schools.

More remains were found at a Montreal park.

In addition to first-degree murder, Magnotta is also charged with committing an indignity to a body; publishing obscene material; criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament; and mailing obscene and indecent material.

The Crown says it’s ready to go once a decision is rendered Tuesday.

“At the end we will be able to proceed in the preliminary hearing to make sure that evidence and witnesses will be heard,” said Crown spokesman Jean-Pascal Boucher.

Four weeks have been set aside for the hearing.