Jury selection begins in murder trial of Luka Magnotta
MONTREAL – Luka Rocco Magnotta‘s lawyer says he is looking for open-minded and intelligent people to serve as jurors in his client’s first-degree murder trial.
Many prospective jurors were exempted Monday – mainly over language proficiency – as the task of selecting a bilingual jury to hear Magnotta’s high-profile case began in earnest.
The accused has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with the May 2012 slaying and dismemberment of Jun Lin, 33, a Chinese engineering student.
His lawyer, Luc Leclair, said he has no master plan in terms of how to find the jurors who will eventually determine Magnotta’s guilt or innocence.
WATCH: Magnotta’s lawyer explains what he’s looking for in a juror
Leclair said he is not concerned about the skin colour or the ethnic background of potential jurors.
“Will we choose men, will we choose women, who do we choose?” Leclair, a Toronto-based defence attorney, told a news conference at the Montreal courthouse.
“It’s not easy.”
Leclair spoke of a “long journey” since Magnotta’s arrest on June 4, 2012.
“He’s (Magnotta) been waiting a long time, I’ve been waiting a long time, we’ve been waiting a long time,” Leclair said.
“There was a time that we never thought this day would come.
Evidence will be presented starting Sept. 22. The trial is scheduled to last between six and eight weeks.
Of the first 400 people called to the courthouse, Justice Guy Cournoyer noted that 87 did not seek an exemption and are set to return next week for the selection process.
For the rest, Cournoyer heard a myriad of reasons for being exempted – from mental health to family obligations to criminal records.
One elderly woman shuffled to the stand and simply told the judge she was 84 years old. Cournoyer told her to:
“Enjoy life, you are exempt.”
In another case, a Concordia University employee who works with international students was exempted, telling the judge she could not be impartial given that Lin was a former student at the university.
One woman told Cournoyer she was disgusted by what she’d read about the Magnotta case and thought the accused should have been castrated two years ago. She too, was exempted.
During the news conference, Leclair said he was surprised by some of the visceral reactions.
“The experience we had this morning was a good one because it allowed me to see how Montrealers reacted,” he said.
“We had reactions that were pretty strong. That was instructive…
“What I am looking for in a juror is someone who has an open mind, is intelligent and who will listen.”
Those were the rarer cases. The majority of exemptions had to do with language.
One by one, prospective jurors told the judge they weren’t bilingual and that their English was either non-existent or just not good enough.
In a few cases, people said their French wasn’t worthy of serving on a jury.
One east-end Montrealer told the judge his English was limited to “yes, no, toaster.”
In another case, a man blurted out immediately that he didn’t speak English.
“I was going to say hello,” Cournoyer joked before exempting him.
In total, 1,600 people have been summoned this week. Next week, the remaining pool will return for the actual selection of twelve bilingual jurors and two alternates.
Cournoyer delivered welcoming remarks to prospective jurors in a large auditorium-style room.
Magnotta, 32, was present, sitting in the corner of the room surrounded by at lease five guards, dressed in a T-shirt and pants. He later watched from a secured dock as jurors requested their exemptions in another smaller courtroom where the actual trial will be held.
Cournoyer, who will oversee the trial, warned potential jurors they would hear evidence that could be difficult to deal with.
“The violence, the sexual character (of the evidence) might be shocking and perturbing.”
Cournoyer also sought to reassure people about some specific video evidence in the case.
“Contrary to the reports in the media, there is no video recording in the evidence that shows the commission of the homicide of Mr. Lin at the time it was committed,” Cournoyer said.
He reminded potential jurors they will have to be bilingual because testimony and documentation will be in French and English.
The court clerk read the charges against Magnotta, while Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier read off the names of 60 potential witnesses so prospective jurors could determine if they knew anyone connected with the case.
The other charges Magnotta faces are: 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.
Leclair said Magnotta was probably shocked and surprised by the scope of the proceedings.
“I haven’t spoken to him since this morning but the experience is pretty surprising for him – the number of people who were there, the size of the room,” Leclair said.
© 2014 The Canadian Press