It was in mid-March that the preliminary hearings of the Magnotta case kicked off in Montreal; they ended on April 12th. The Political Bouillon has monitored the case closely since the start of the hearings which essentially consisted in receiving input from 32 crown witnesses and none from the defense. Magnotta, who is accused of dismembering his lover, then mailing the body parts to schools across the country and to political parties, has been committed to trial on all five charges : first degree murder, committing indignity to a body, mailing obscene and indecent material, publishing obscene material, and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as well as other members of the Parliament.
All that we can’t say
Although the open court principle is a hallmark of our democratic society, publication bans regarding the evidence shown during preliminary hearings are frequently and automatically granted when requested. The stricter ban demanded by the defense on day one, under which no journalists or members of the public would be able to attend the hearings at all, was rejected by the Judge; having journalists, and members of the public, present during a pre-trial lets the media fulfill its role, ensuring checks and balances of the system. The regular publication ban was however requested and applied. It was put in place mostly to avoid having too much information circulating and potentially influencing the future jury. The family of the victim may also not want some material to be accessible to the public.
As the hearings came to a close on the 11th day, Quebecor had a lawyer present asking that media be allowed to access the evidence. No decision was made by the court on the issue; the media’s demand will be addressed once again later in the proceedings. For now, the ban is taken seriously by all media, as the penalty for breaking a publication ban can be quite severe. Stephen Williams on January 14th 2005, on the Homolka case, pleaded guilty for posting the names of the sexual assault victims on his website. He received a three-year suspended sentence and was ordered to do 70 hours of community service.
On a different note, Quebec Superior Court has reinforced the ban on tweets, which now prohibits journalists from sending out any information as of April 15th. According to Brian Myles, president of the Quebec Association of Journalists, the Quebec Court system is “actively trying to muzzle journalists”. Details on this can be found in Mick Côté’s article: Quebec courts shutting up journalists.
Inside the Court Room
The aspect of the Magnotta story which perhaps created the most surprise is the amount of supporters Luka Rocco Magnotta actually has. Some are prepared to drive a long way, enter Canada illegally, and risk having their own mug shots tweeted, simply to see the man handcuffed in a glass box. After the Political Bouillon inquired about the fan named Kyle, who received the most media attention, the police suddenly wanted him out of Canada. By then, the young man had quickly returned to North Carolina, or so said his blog. The morning after the PB tweeted mugshots, security at the courthouse was clearly waiting for the fan. One must say that the line-up to access the court room is sometimes rather creepy. It is dotted with individuals with a bizarre and inexplicable admiration for the accused. The media avoids providing them with a spotlight: a video interview with Kyle by Xtra is available on Youtube. However, members of the public who had a genuine interest in the court proceedings included students of law, criminology, medicine and others.
Concordia Student Jun Lin. Jun Lin was, according to his family: lovely, outgoing, very kind, enthusiastic and generally open to helping people. He participated as a volunteer in the Beijing Olympics. Before leaving China, he took French classes at the Alliance Francaise cultural centre in order to prepare for possible immigration to Quebec. Above all, Jun Lin was a romantic according to an article in The Globe and Mail, his principal objective in life being to find love. He posted on Weibo (a Chinese social media) pictures of himself, mostly alone.
On the other hand, he also posted a picture of a horrible image on St-Valentine’s day with the caption “My self-portrait” and another of an empty subway car with the caption “midnight cannibalism train” according to another article: “The Many Sides of Montreal Murder Victim Lin Jun”. This last picture brought some to speculate that he was “foreshadowing” what was coming. His nickname on Weibo was “Justin the Villain”. Unfortunately his path eventually crossed Mr. Magnotta’s.
What to expect
Magnotta has pleaded innocent on all accusations. His defense lawyer Luc Leclair, who did not speak to the reporters on April 12th, attempted to have the murder charge downgraded from first degree to second degree stating a lack of direct evidence. However, Judge Lori-Renée Weitzman, because of overwhelming circumstantial evidence, did not accept the motion. Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthiller stated the crown was satisfied with the court’s decision to go ahead with a trial and stick with the initial charge of first degree murder.
The news that there was a letter from a Toronto-based psychiatrist submitted as evidence when Magnotta was facing fraud charges in 2005, stating he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager, does not seem to have changed anything so far. The media fought hard for the release of this document. Magnotta’s current defense attempted to stop the media from accessing it before Ontario Court Judge Fergus O’Donnell ruled it could be released.
At the moment the entire process is paused, the next date to keep in mind is April 29th, when the trial dates should be established, expected to be in early 2014. There is some palpable public anger and confusion at times on Twitter regarding the case. Many tweets call for the death penalty, such penalties do not apply in Canada. If Magnotta is found guilty as charged, he may well find himself behind bars for as long as 25 years. Criticism about the media providing too much attention to Magnotta bears little importance. Whether Magnotta collapses or cries in court, if he waves every day to an unidentified woman in the front row, or chooses to wear a white shirt with Versace’s logo splashed across it, white jeans and white Lacoste shoes—all this is quite insignificant. He will be judged.
–Mathieu Paul Dumont
Featured Photo and Victim Photo (Credit: Facebook)