ABOVE: On day 12 of the Luka Magnotta trial, the jury was shown the so-called murder video of victim Jun Lin being dismembered. Domenic Fazioli reports.
Warning: This story contains graphic details.
MONTREAL — One expert witness refused to watch it, while another said she watched it twice to help with her work.
The video Luka Magnotta shot while killing and dismembering his victim has been mentioned every few days in his first-degree murder trial, but wasn’t viewed in court until Thursday.
Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier, during his opening statement in September, warned the 14-member jury he planned to show the video during the trial’s third week, which is currently underway. He said it included almost one minute of footage of another man bound to the bed, and would prove premeditation and intent.
Within the first few minutes of the trial’s proceedings, the jurors were warned: This will be graphic.
So far, the jury has looked at photographs of the severed body parts of 33-year-old victim Jun Lin and the torso from which those parts came, stuffed into a large suitcase; police photos of Lin’s head, found more than a month after he was killed; an image of one of the victim’s vertebra; a detailed autopsy report; close to 100 photographs of Lin’s blood, splattered, smudged and pooled throughout Magnotta’s bachelor apartment.
The video could easily be considered worse than any of that.
One description of the video’s contents came earlier this week during testimony from the forensic biologist and blood splatter expert who combed through the scene of Lin’s killing.
Jacinthe Prévost said she remembered one man lying prone on the bed while another man, a hood concealing his face, appeared to stab him. She then described gruesome details of indignities performed upon the corpse and seeing still photographs of body parts.
The video showing all of that played for the jurists Thursday, some of who stared at the defendant, sitting with his head down in the prisoner’s box, on their way out of the courtroom.
After the Crown played the video, which is edited and runs more than 10 minutes, Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer announced the court would take a 20-minute recess.
Magnotta faces five charges including first-degree murder, committing an indignity to a human body, publishing obscene material, criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament and mailing obscene and indecent material.
Certainly, the video shows Magnotta killing his victim in May 2012. And there is no question the video made the rounds online shortly after the killing. But the defendant has admitted to the crimes of which he is accused, although his lawyer is arguing his client was so psychologically sick at the time he cannot be held criminally responsible.
So how necessary is it to show this graphic, potentially upsetting, piece of evidence?
Part of the job of a Crown prosecutor includes putting a face to the victim, making the case compelling for the jury and allowing the jurists to experience the full impact of the crime, explained criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, who said he hasn’t seen the video.
“The video might not be necessary from an evidentiary standpoint, but it’s a graphic representation of the victim,” he said in a phone interview.
Beyond that, Spratt said he believes the video must contain evidence that will influence Magnotta’s insanity plea.
In analyzing the video, the lawyers on either side might look for experts to draw on Magnotta’s affect and demeanour, or touch on any visual or behavioural clues that either confirm or discredit the not criminally responsible claim, said Spratt, a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners in Ottawa.
“There might be significant evidence in there for experts to tease out,” he said. “Conscious actions and decisions might bear some relevance to the plea.”
And that plea, explained criminal defence lawyer Anne Weinstein, is one of the few live issues in the case; the court already knows who committed the crime and the identity of the victim.
If neither the Crown nor the defence objected to the video’s admissibility as evidence — which either could do under provisions in the Criminal Code — both must believe there is something in it that will help their case, said Weinstein, who also said she hasn’t seen the video.
Whether the defence attempted to have the judge deem the video inadmissible during the pretrial, however, will not become public knowledge until the trial wraps up.
“If the defence didn’t object, it must hope there is evidence relevant to the not criminally responsible plea,” she said. “For example, if the defendant is seen acting completely irrationally.”
On the other hand, she said, the video could produce an involuntary revulsion to the defendant among jurors.
But a judge can’t exclude evidence only because it’s graphic and gory, Weinstein said; If it’s relevant, there is a good chance the court will hear it.
The jurors in Magnotta’s first-degree murder trial were vetted with a warning of how graphic the trial could become. Still, that doesn’t take away from the effect the video could have on them, said Weinstein, a partner at Weinstein Law in Ottawa.
“This kind of material is bound to have an effect on the jury,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s not unreasonable to think they’ll be affected.”
Police officer testifies about process of tracking down film uploader
On Thursday, a Montreal police officer testified she received an email around 8 p.m. on May 29, 2012 — the day Lin’s torso was discovered in Montreal — asking her to look into a video.
The email contained two links to two different “gore” sites.
Both sites – heaven666.org and bestgore.com – had the same video, a 10-minute-and-22-second edited snuff film. During her testimony, Nadine Paoliello said she found the video was also posted to a third site, theync.com.
The officer, who has been in the technological crimes unit since 2009 and with the force since 2002, walked the court through the process of determining who uploaded the video, and where and when.
Her attempts to track down the individual who posted the videos (and have the web masters remove the video from their respective sites) began with tracing IP addresses through tools available online.
She then found the Internet service provider associated with each IP address — a specific digital marker that identifies an individual computer or modem — and asked for the subscriber’s address.
Communicating with the web masters, Paoliello said she would then get as much information as possible about the individual who posted the video.
From a lawyer representing gore site theync.com, Paoliello told the court she received a link to the video uploaded privately to YouTube.
A private upload means only those with a specific URL can view the upload.
Unlike the three other versions, this one ran 10:49 Paoliello said.
Paoliello then got in touch with Google, which owns YouTube, asking them to remove the video and to hand over details of the user who had posted it. Google responded saying they removed the item but couldn’t immediately hand over information about the user.
The version shown to the court Thursday was copied from heaven666.org, Paoliello said.