UPDATE: Thurs, June 21 —
First-degree murder suspect Luka Magnotta made his first appearance in a Montreal courtroom today.
Looking reserved, a pale Magnotta said nothing as his lawyers discussed the date for the preliminary hearing. Magnotta wore a white-and-grey plaid shirt with pink, loose-fitting jeans and new trainers just below his leg shackles. Shuffling, flanked by security, Magnotta sat down in the court’s large translucent cage. He stood again as one of his lawyers approached, then sat back down.
Lawyer Luc Leclair expressed concern for Magnotta’s “physical well-being and mental well-being” as the lawyers discussed his imprisonment. Magnotta is being held in solitary confinement, on 24-hour suicide watch.
The lawyers requested that Magnotta be provided access to certain medication while he is being held. The prosecution requested a publication ban on the name and type of the drugs, which the defence and judge agreed to.
Detached, Magnotta continued to stare straight ahead while the conversation took place, blinking frequently.
Arrangements had been made on June 19 to have Magnotta appear by video link, so many were surprised when he appeared in court.
Rumours swirled in the media pool that the family of the victim, Lin Jun, was somewhere in the building, watching the proceedings.
The Toronto native pleaded not guilty to five charges on June 19.
In that brief session, his lawyer, Pierre Panaccio, requested a two-day break to consider requesting a psychiatric evaluation.
That evaluation, it seems, won’t be taking place, as no such request was made. The trial will continue with a preliminary hearing early next year.
Magnotta also shook up his counsel today, adding lawyers John Dury and the Toronto-based Leclair.
Leclair, according to his website, is active in Conservative Party politics in Toronto, having been involved with the Tory leadership campaigns of Peter MacKay, Belinda Stronach and John Tory. He also stood as a candidate for city council.
The trio of lawyers, led by Leclair, offered terse remarks after the 15-minute session, saying only that Magnotta “trusts the Canadian justice system” and that the lawyers would not be commenting on the case outside the courtroom.
June 19 —“Okay.”
It took less than five minutes for Luka Magnotta to plead not guilty to the five charges against him, including first degree murder. Magnotta appeared by video link from where he is being held, a location that police are refusing to disclose. His defence lawyer, Pierre Panaccio, acknowledged that his client understood the charges before him. Before the video link was cut, Panaccio suggested Magnotta give him a call, prompting the one-word response.
Magnotta will appear in court via videolink again on June 21. The defence requested the two-day break in order to consider requesting a psychiatric evaluation. If the judge allows it, Magnotta will be remanded to a psychiatric institution, where doctors will spend up to 30 days deciding whether he’s fit to stand trial. If he is deemed not criminally liable or unfit to stand trial due to mental illness, the prosecution will have a chance to appeal.
Today’s arraignment kicks off what is sure to be a summer of intense fixation.
The two prosecutors refused to comment on much of the mystery surrounding the case, including the destination of the missing head and whether the gruesome video would be shown in the courtroom.
Two of the charges laid against Magnotta are for allegedly sending the victim’s hands and feet, one of which ended up at Conservative Party headquarters, through Canada Post. That led to a charge of threatening Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Prosecutors refused to comment further on that charge but alluded to having more substantive evidence. It is unclear if a note was attached to the package.
Magnotta was initially charged with second degree murder, but that charge was dropped June 19 in favour of the upgraded first degree charge.
“We’ll do our best to reassure them,” said one, acknowledging that the Chinese parents of Lin Jun are still in Montreal.
It’s unclear how Magnotta plans to contest the charges. His lawyer – who gained notoriety defending a group of Hell’s Angels in a high-profile case – seemed to be hired at the last minute, as rumours swirled that Magnotta had hired Marc Labelle, the high-profile lawyer who is defending Quebec’s ex-lieutenant governor against criminal fraud charges.
The prosecutors acknowledged that there will be some difficulty in finding a jury to sit through what is sure to be a gruesome trial, especially because it stands to drag through much of the summer, but said that these cases are “always hard.”