Warning: This column includes graphic details that may offend some readers.
MONTREAL - It was the stillness after the storm.
After the bombardment, the visual absorption, of unspeakable horrors.
The only sound long, drawn breaths inhaled and exhaled.
Jurors could barely look at each other, following what they’d just seen. But nobody fainted. Hardly flinched. Only one fidgeted nervously.
All the air had been sucked out of the courtroom.
Wisely, Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer stepped in, a gentle voice disrupting the stunned quiet. “We will take the afternoon break now.”
He’d warned them, weeks ago, upon their selection to the jury panel in the first-degree murder trial of Luka Magnotta. Their civic duty would include watching a macabre murder video that depicted cruelties and defilement beyond imagination.
Even with all the rumours that were out there in the public domain, leaks seeping out from a preliminary hearing last year, whispered accounts from people who’d seen the ghastly video when it was posted on the Internet — then removed by police request — nobody was quite prepared Thursday afternoon for the footage that unfolded of the butchery inflicted on Jun Lin on May 24, 2012.
And this was the shorter version of the notorious video Magnotta uploaded to the web mere hours after killing and mutilating the 33-year-old Concordia University student. More revolting barbarities are anticipated in the unedited footage that is also supposed to be screened during trial.
The “selfie’’ crime is no longer an extreme rarity. Perpetrators, most famously Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, have documented their depravities before, though the visual evidence of their violation and torture of teenage victims was never played in open court, only the audio permitted by the presiding judge. That jury watched everything, however, on their monitors. And these days, with ubiquitous CCTV everywhere, crimes in progress are routinely captured by surveillance cameras.
But no Canadian jury had ever seen anything like this abomination.
This is the snuff film, although the moment of murder is not clear, that was posted on at least four websites and YouTube: Heaven666, bestgore.com, and theync.com were identified as three of the voyeur platforms yesterday by Nadine Paoliello, an investigator with the crime tech section of Montreal police, the videos (of different lengths) labelled variously as “Shake Things Up a Little Bit’’ and “1lunatic, 1icepick” and “sick-1icepick.” Each website specializes in gore — car crashes, dismembered bodies, grisly trauma. They provide, apparently, niche entertainment for the morbid and sadistic.
The video played in court had a musical accompaniment: “True Faith” by New Order. That song, Paoliello added, was also featured in the 2000 film American Psycho. (British newspapers have tagged Magnotta “Canadian Psycho.’’)
Magnotta had said, as court heard in opening statements by the prosecution, that he intended to make a kill video and unleash it into cyberspace. A London Sun reporter is expected to testify about his hotel room conversations with Magnotta before Lin was murdered.
But once the video began, 32-year-old Magnotta — former porn actor, former gay prostitute, endlessly fascinated with his own beauteous countenance, couldn’t pass a mirror without stopping to admire himself — chose not to watch, bending forward in the defendant’s box and dropping his head. Afterwards, as the jurors filed out of the courtroom on their afternoon break, Magnotta was slow to rise to his feet, wiping at his left eye. No actual tears were visible.
At the preliminary hearing, Magnotta fainted when the video was played.
That might be an understandable reaction for a normal person, witnessing himself committing these gruesome acts.
Sanity is the legal issue here. Through his lawyer, Magnotta has admitted to the “physical part’’ of the charges he’s facing, which include first-degree murder, dismemberment, committing indignities on a body and mailing body parts to the Conservative and Liberal party headquarters in Ottawa, as well as two Vancouver schools.
Defence lawyer Luc Leclair has already stated he will seek a finding of “not criminally responsible;” that Magnotta acted out of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. How Leclair will reconcile that argument with the vast trove of surveillance video that captured Magnotta calmly going about the business of disposing of Lin’s remains afterwards, trundling the suitcase past residents sitting on his building’s front steps, dumping blood-stained articles into trash bins in the basement, even taking delivery of a pizza at his front door — well, that remains a mystery.
So it’s been granted that’s Magnotta on the video, although his face is never seen. But we see the back of his head and his naked body.
We see him sodomizing Lin’s corpse, living flesh on dead flesh, and other deeply disturbing acts. We see him plunging a screw driver multiple times — over and over — into Lin’s chest and groin.
Police would later find, stuffed in garbage bags, Lin’s limbs and the body of the puppy seen in the video. The bags were deposited outside Magnotta’s apartment building. Lin’s torso was discovered inside a suitcase in the alley. His decapitated head was left in a Montreal park, after police received a tip from a Toronto lawyer.
While investigators originally believed the torso belonged to Magnotta — that he’d been the victim — they quickly realized, after being informed about the video’s existence, that Magnotta was their chief suspect. By then, Magnotta had already bolted to Paris, then moved on to Berlin, where he was arrested June 4, 2012, and extradited back to Canada.
It has thus far not been confirmed that Lin is the man seen at the beginning of the video, tied naked to the bed in Magnotta’s grungy studio apartment. Court has heard that another male appears in the opening 53 seconds of a video retrieved by police in what has been described as akin to a murder rehearsal a week prior to Lin’s slaying. That man, his identity never ascertained by investigators, is seen wobbling, unsteady on his feet and assisted by Magnotta as he leaves the apartment the following morning.
On the video played yesterday, the naked man, believed to be Lin, trussed up on Magnotta’s bed, is clearly alive at the beginning. He moves his legs feebly, turns his head this way and that. But the dimly lit 10-minute footage seems spliced and in ensuing frames the victim in no way reacts to dozens and dozens of screw-driver thrusts. The actual slashing of the throat isn’t depicted, only the dissection of limbs.
The video ends with what appears to be a still image of Lin’s leg in the freezer and his decapitated head on the floor.
As the music plays . . .