Magnotta admitted to killing Jun Lin: Shouldn’t the jury be considering his psychiatric assessment alone?
“Luka Magnotta has admitted he killed Jun Lin but says he is not guilty by reason of insanity,” writes Jennifer Sydenham from Vancouver. “So why are they reviewing all the details? Shouldn’t they just be looking at the psychiatric assessment?” Les Perreaux, national correspondent for The Globe who has been following the trial in Montreal, explains:
While the basic facts in the murder trial of Luka Magnotta are not in dispute, the meaning of those facts is hotly contested. Mr. Magnotta’s murder trial has dragged on for 10 weeks, double initial estimates, as the Crown and defence have combed through every exhibit, crime scene photograph and piece of forensic evidence.
At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time given Mr. Magnotta’s defence team admitted on Day 1 of the trial that he killed Mr. Lin, dismembered his body, and mailed out some parts, including to Canadian political leaders in Ottawa. But Mr. Magnotta has pleaded not guilty, saying he is not criminally responsible (NCR) for the crimes because a mental defect made it impossible for him to appreciate the horror of what he did or to even realize it was wrong.
The Crown disagrees, saying he was of sound mind when he committed the crime.
Psychiatric experts have an important role to play in the trial offering opinions on Mr. Magnotta’s mental state but they don’t all agree. Experts for the defence say Mr. Magnotta is schizophrenic and was too ill to be held responsible for the killing. The Crown’s expert disagrees entirely.
A jury of 12 ordinary citizens will ultimately decide. This is where 10 weeks of facts they’ve heard become important.
“The case is heavily dependent on facts: on things he did, things he said, his demeanour and behaviour and reactions, all of that is evidence the jury could use to assist it in coming to that determination,” said Carissima Mathen, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
“One of the interesting things about this area of criminal law is that the shrinks don’t have all the answers. It’s still very much a case by case determination. Shrinks don’t tell us whether someone was suffering from a mental disorder and should not be found not criminally responsible, a jury decides that.”
In the course of Mr. Magnotta’s trial, the Crown called one of Mr. Lin’s ex-lovers and the defence insisted on presenting before the jury each of hundreds of exhibits, from knives to an electric saw to bloody clothing to paper used to wrap body parts. Jurors have also seen terrible video depicting much of the crime, along with hours of tedious security camera footage showing Mr. Magnotta’s more mundane comings and goings.
Some of the evidence will help the jury decide Mr. Magnotta was either insane or fully functional but some “may also be window dressing,” according to David Butt, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer. “The prosecution may want to go into detail to persuade the jury he is fully functional. The other possibility is they want to go into those details to emphasize the horrific nature of the killing, which may make the jury more reluctant to accept the NCR defence.
“One reason is more substantive, and the other more strategic.”
Occasionally cases hinging on mental illness wrap up much more quickly. The trial of Vince Li, the man who beheaded a passenger on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba, wrapped up in just a couple days because the Crown did not contest that he was a sick man. “If both parties agree the accused was not criminally responsible at the time, these cases can be done in an hour,” Mr. Butt said.
Prof. Mathen said finding precedents for guidance in an NCR murder case like Mr. Magnotta’s is not easy. “It’s an extraordinary case. I don’t know how many comparatives we would have where there’s a claim of NCR in a case so notorious with such horrific facts,” she said.
“But ultimately, the decision is what we call a question of fact. It is something that would need to be evaluated by the jury in light of all the evidence. So it’s not surprising to me that the Crown wants to paint as vivid a picture as possible.”