MONTREAL – One of Canada’s most publicized and shocking criminal cases resumes Monday when jury selection begins in the first-degree murder trial of Luka Rocco Magnotta.
Magnotta, 32, faces five charges in connection with the slaying and dismemberment of Chinese engineering student Jun Lin in May 2012.
He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and the four others: 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 case began with the discovery of a human torso stuffed in trash behind a Montreal apartment building in May 2012. Body parts then began surfacing in different parts of Canada – first at federal political offices in Ottawa and, later, at two British Columbia schools.
A video that purportedly depicted a slaying was posted online around the same time and was linked by Montreal police to the discovery of the body parts.
Magnotta is a native of Scarborough, Ont., who, according to police, set up dozens of Internet user names and maintained 70 Facebook pages and 20 websites.
As the case progressed, Magnotta was discovered to have left the country, triggering an international police manhunt that Montreal police said was the largest in which they had taken part.
Interpol became involved and Magnotta was arrested without incident at a Berlin Internet cafe on June 4, several days after Lin’s slaying.
He returned to Canada a few weeks later, escorted by several Montreal police major-crimes detectives aboard a Canadian government plane.
The proceedings have since wound their way through the courts, with the trial proper scheduled to begin Sept. 22.
The case involving Magnotta captured headlines around the world. He was named Canadian newsmaker of the year and news story of the year by editors across the country in 2012 in the annual poll of newsrooms by The Canadian Press.
During the preliminary stages of his case, court appearances generated a circus-like atmosphere at the Montreal courthouse. Even procedural hearings, which journalists rarely attend, were subject to extensive coverage by local and national media.
Magnotta’s lawyer, Luc Leclair, repeatedly tried to limit what could be written about his client while awaiting trial.
Motions were tabled to limit the scope of coverage or forbid the public and media from attending proceedings altogether. The attempts failed, however, with various judges throughout the process expressing confidence Magnotta would still get a fair trial.
Leclair has kept his public comments to a minimum since Magnotta’s arrest, but says his client returned voluntarily from Europe, choosing not to fight extradition.
“He decided to come back to Canada and to face the public in Montreal, in particular, who will be called to judge him…,” Leclair said in April 2013. “He came, personally, to face the court because he has faith in the Canadian judicial system.”
The preliminary inquiry heard from more than 30 witnesses from Montreal and elsewhere in Canada. In recent months, the court travelled to Europe to question witnesses in France and Germany.
Lin’s family have also expressed faith in the justice system and say they don’t want their son to be forgotten.
Jun Lin, 33, was born in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. He realized a long-standing dream by coming to Canada in 2011.
In interviews with the media in April 2013, his family recalled how Lin had a comfortable life working in IT at Microsoft’s Beijing office, but had sought a move to Canada to study and to improve his life.
He was enrolled as a computer engineering student at Concordia University and worked as a part-time convenience store clerk.
Lin’s parents said he was excited about his future in this country.
The family also described struggling mightily with the loss of their only son. His mother, Zhigui Du, talked of losing the will to live after Lin’s death.
Lin was laid to rest in Montreal in July 2012, in the country and city his family said he loved.
The Lin family have been present throughout the proceedings via a Montreal lawyer. Recently, Lin’s father, Diran Lin, formally asked the court to limit access to some of the exhibits considered to be obscene so they aren’t widely published during the trial.
A Montreal lawyer for Lin’s parents and sister said they don’t expect to make any further comments until after the trial.
Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier will represent the Crown while Magnotta will be defended by Leclair, an Ontario-based lawyer.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer will oversee the trial.
Jury selection is expected to run about two weeks. Fourteen bilingual jurors will be chosen to hear the evidence, while 12 of them will eventually decide Magnotta’s fate.