Luka Magnotta, accused in infamous body-parts case, set for preliminary inquiry

MONTREAL – Luka Rocco Magnotta, the man charged in connection with the infamous body-parts case that dominated headlines for the better part of 2012, is set to begin his preliminary inquiry on Monday.

But if Magnotta’s lawyers have their way, the only people in the Montreal courtroom to hear the sordid details will be the prosecutors, the judge and a court clerk.

Magnotta is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Chinese-born student Jun Lin last May.

The 30-year-old low-budget porn actor and stripper, who crafted an online personality for himself over several years, became known worldwide after an international manhunt.

Authorities began looking for him after the severed remains of Lin, a Montreal engineering student, began showing up all over Canada.

Preliminary hearings, which determine if there is enough evidence to send a case to trial, are generally covered by a publication ban on that evidence.

But Magnotta’s legal team announced at the end of last month that it would seek to have the public and media barred from attending altogether.

In a motion filed at the end of February, the request for the closed courtroom stems from an unspecified reason related to Magnotta’s personal and medical history, details of which are not disclosed in the document.

The written motion from Magnotta’s lawyers says that “the ends of justice will be best served by doing so.”

Magnotta is accused of videotaping himself stabbing and dismembering Lin.

There is tremendous intrigue surrounding the case. Magnotta has kept quiet since being arrested in Germany and returned to Canada. His lawyers have kept their comments to the courtroom. The Crown has not said much about what they believed happened last May.

It began with the discovery of a torso in a suitcase outside a Montreal apartment and body parts in Ottawa on the same day. Those grisly discoveries triggered a police investigation that would spread right across the globe.

Magnotta is also accused of mailing body parts to different places including the Ottawa offices of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, two Vancouver schools. More remains were found at a Montreal park.

In addition to the first-degree murder charge, 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.

Magnotta has previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and chosen trial by judge and jury.

One Montreal criminal attorney says that Magnotta’s legal team, led by Toronto-based lawyer Luc Leclair, will face an uphill battle in keeping the public barred.

Lawyer Steven Slimovitch, who is not connected to the case, said Magnotta’s attorneys must prove their client’s right to a fair trial is put in jeopardy by the public being allowed in the courtroom. Several media outlets will contest the attempt.

“They have a high burden of proof because the rule in Canada is open court,” Slimovitch said.

A publication ban at the preliminary inquiry stage is “almost automatic,” with evidence heard kept under wraps until either the charges are dropped or a criminal trial is complete.

The case has usually been heard in an secured courtroom at the Montreal courthouse — with lengthy lineups, limited seating and heavy security the norm. An overflow room set up elsewhere in the courthouse is also usually packed.

Lin’s family have previously said they would attend court dates this spring, but it isn’t clear whether they were back in town.

The curiosity surrounding Magnotta in part has to do with his voluminous online presence.

Magnotta legally had his name changed from Eric Clinton Kirk Newman on Aug. 12, 2006, while he still lived in Ontario where he was born and raised.

Various pages and sites, some allegedly authored by Magnotta, revealed numerous aliases he kept over the years. His online musings suggested he had a longtime fascination with identity change and escape. He had multiple social media accounts under these various aliases.

The case captured international media attention and organizations dubbed Magnotta as the “Canadian Psycho” and the “Canadian Cannibal,” among other names.

He was named Canadian newsmaker of the year and news story of the year by editors across the country in the annual poll of newsrooms by The Canadian Press.

Quebec Court judge Lori-Renee Weitzman will hear the case over the next two weeks. It could be extended if need be. An eventual trial would be heard by a different judge in Quebec Superior Court.