What does the Luka Magnotta jury have to decide?
Did he realize he was killing an innocent man? Did he know that was wrong?
The jurors’ task in Luka Magnotta’s first-degree murder trial is unique: They have to decide not whether he committed the crime to which he’s already admitted, but his state of mind when he did.
“Is it more likely than not Mr. Magnotta was suffering a mental disorder at the time of the acts?” Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer said Monday, highlighting the first, and most weighty, question the jury has to answer.
“A mental disorder is a disease of the mind,” the judge continued.
Paranoid schizophrenia, a diagnosis that appears throughout the defendant’s lengthy medical records entered as evidence in the trial, is a disease of the mind, Cournoyer said.
“But it is for you to decide whether it is more likely than not that Mr. Magnotta was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time the acts were committed,” he said.
Fourteen jurors listened attentively, some taking notes as others looked briefly up at the defendant, while Cournoyer gave them their final instructions on Monday — the final phase of the trial before they spend their days in a jury room and evenings at a hotel until they reach a unanimous decision.
Two jurors held as alternatives were dismissed Monday afternoon, leaving 12 to decide the 32 year old’s fate.
A tenet of Canadian law is the presumption of innocence from the moment a defendant walks into the courtroom until the end of the trial, Cournoyer said.
Usually the Crown bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — it is neither the responsibility of the defendant nor his counsel to prove innocence.
But that burden of proof shifted in the opening moments of the trial back in September.
“The issue of mental disorder is an exception to this rule,” Cournoyer told the jurors.
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Minutes into the hearings, Magnotta’s lawyer Luc Leclair told the court his client admits to the “physical acts” behind the five charges he faces in connection with the killing of 33-year-old Jun Lin. But Magnotta pleaded not criminally responsible by way of mental disorder.
That put the onus on the defence to prove Magnotta committed the crimes while suffering from a mental disorder rendering him “incapable of appreciating the nature or quality of the act or of knowing that it was wrong,” according to the Criminal Code.
Throughout the 10-week trial, Leclair sought to convince the jury Magnotta was in a state of psychosis, the result of severe mental illness, when he killed and dismembered Lin in May, 2012.
Several defence psychiatrists testified Magnotta is schizophrenic and was in a state of psychosis when he killed Lin; others, testifying for the prosecution, have said Magnotta has a personality disorder and had the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong on that fateful night in Montreal.
“It will be up to you to decide how much or how little of the testimony of each witness you will believe,” Cournoyer said. “You may believe some, all, or none of the testimony of a given witness.”
As an example, Cournoyer noted one of the Crown’s psychiatrists suggested the killing was an escalation from when Magnotta was filmed killing kittens; he said Magnotta was seeking notoriety. A defence psychiatrist, however, rejected that approach, saying the snuff film Magnotta posted of Lin would have included the precise moment the victim’s throat was slashed as well as the complete dismemberments if he was seeking prominence and notoriety, Cournoyer recalled.
“Use your collective common sense to decide,” the judge said. “There is no magic formula to believe a witness testimony or how much to rely on it in this case.”
Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier has argued Magnotta planned the killing deliberately and should be found guilty of first-degree murder as well as the other four charges he faces: 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.
The jurors may decide that “more likely than not” Magnotta was in a state of psychosis when he killed Lin and dismembered the corpse, filmed much of the gruesome episode and posted an edited version of the tapes online, and mailed some body parts to Ottawa and Vancouver in parcels with menacing notes.
Canada’s new not criminally responsible law, passed last summer, made public safety paramount and created a “high risk” designation. An individual falls under this term if he or she committed a “serious personal injury,” is likely to commit further violence, or their acts were of such “brutal nature” as to indicate a grave risk to the public.
Individuals deemed “high risk” cannot be released until the high-risk designation is revoked by a court, and their cases are up for review only every three years – not annually, as the previous law stipulated.
READ MORE: Not criminally responsible myths, debunked
If the jury finds Magnotta not criminally responsible, the Crown could pursue a “high risk” designation. But many legal experts have said that could spark a constitutional challenge regarding the new legislation, the justification of which the federal government has yet to provide any evidence.
If the jury feels Magnotta was of sound mind, they will have to decide whether he is guilty of the five charges, beginning with first-degree murder.
For this, jurors will first have to look at whether the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt Magnotta either meant to cause Lin’s death or meant to cause harm so severe it would reasonably kill. If not, they can find Magnotta guilty of manslaughter, Cournoyer said.
The second element of the first-degree charge is planning and deliberation, the judge said.
“Planning and deliberation are not the same as intention … A murder committed intentionally but without prior planning is not first degree,” Cournoyer said before advising the jurors if they are not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt the crime was planned and deliberate, they can find Magnotta guilty of second-degree murder.
The jury will go through similar questions in deciding a verdict for each of the other four charges — if Magnotta was of sound mind, did he intend to commit indignities upon Lin’s corpse, post a video with obscene material, harass the prime minister?
“When you go to the jury room, the [evidence] goes with you,” Cournoyer said. “Be careful: There are some exhibits you should only handle with gloves.”
The jurors have a long list of evidence and testimony to sift through entered throughout the 10-week; there is no telling how much time they will need to reach their decision.
“I am giving you this to help you make a decision,” Cournoyer said. “I’m telling you how to make a decision, not what decision to make.”
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