As Luka Rocco Magnotta stood in a Toronto courtroom, his mother watching from a seat nearby, Madam Justice Lauren Marshall had these words of caution for the young fraudster: “Sir, you have got a medical problem, and you need to always take medication. If you do not, your life is going to get messed up.”
That was seven years ago, well before Mr. Magnotta gained international notoriety this spring, when he was charged with first-degree murder in the brutal killing and dismemberment of Lin Jun, a 33-year-old student from China who was studying computer engineering at Concordia University in Montreal.
Mr. Magnotta’s three-member legal team did not request a psychiatric assessment after the small-time porn actor, model and escort pleaded not guilty to murder and four other charges connected to the May slaying. Instead, his lawyers asked the court to ensure the 30-year-old received his medication while in detention. A publication ban was imposed to prevent the media from reporting on the prescription drugs he is taking.
Although the current state of his mental health remains a mystery, it was clear on the day of his sentencing for fraud in June, 2005, that Mr. Magnotta had “significant psychiatric issues” and that he didn’t always take his medication, Ontario Court of Justice transcripts show.
Then an unemployed 22-year-old who was living in an apartment in Toronto and still going by his birth name, Eric Clinton Newman, Mr. Magnotta initially faced a dozen criminal charges, mostly for fraud and possession of stolen property. One charge, though, was tied to an alleged sexual assault of a young woman he met online the year before – a charge the Crown later withdrew.
In the end, Mr. Magnotta pleaded guilty to defrauding three retail stores of thousands of dollars and to impersonating the same young woman to obtain a credit card. His only words in court that day were to acknowledge his guilt. His victim was extremely vulnerable, court transcripts reveal. She was 21 years old but had the mental capacity of an eight- to 12-year-old child.
The pair met in January, 2004, chatting first online and then face to face. At some point that year, Mr. Magnotta asked her to apply for credit cards that he could use, assuring her he would pay the bills. He took her to Sears, 2001 Audio Video and The Brick to apply for credit. He also obtained an American Express card under her name, impersonating the woman over the telephone.
He racked up slightly more than $10,000 in charges before the victim’s mother caught on to the scheme.
“I know you have your own problems,” Judge Marshall told Mr. Magnotta, “but it is a terrible thing to take advantage of somebody with even bigger problems than you have.”
Mr. Magnotta did not have a criminal record before his 2005 convictions. Although the specifics of his medical condition were not read out loud in court, they were outlined in a letter submitted by Mr. Magnotta’s lawyer, Peter Scully.
Mr. Scully declined to discuss the contents of the letter or Mr. Magnotta’s mental health at the time, saying those details are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Court transcripts indicate the letter was from a doctor with the Rouge Valley medical centre in the Greater Toronto Area.
Mr. Magnotta’s medical condition had been “very challenging” for his mother, Anna Yourkin, but she remained a “pillar of strength to him,” Mr. Scully told the court.
Crown lawyer Anna Stanford added: “It is clear from the letter … that Mr. Newman has some significant psychiatric issues that may have contributed to his lack of judgment in these offences.”
Mr. Magnotta’s mental state prompted Judge Marshall to reduce the community service included in his nine-month conditional sentence and one year of probation to a mere 20 hours from the 100 proposed by the Crown. She did so because she didn’t think he could cope with more as a result of his underlying medical problem.
The judge ordered him to take his medication, receive treatment for mental health issues and counselling for life skills.
“Please listen to your parents,” Judge Marshall advised Mr. Magnotta. “They may not be perfect, but what it comes down to is they are the ones in the world who care most about you and are going to always try and give you the right advice.”
Mr. Magnotta’s parents have not spoken publicly about their son’s arrest in the May slaying. They separated long ago and his mother now lives in Peterborough, Ont., where he had stayed occasionally.
Residing in a shabby studio apartment in Montreal last spring, Mr. Magnotta became the subject of an intense international manhunt after Mr. Lin’s torso was found stuffed in a suitcase in Montreal and other body parts were mailed to federal political parties in Ottawa.
Montreal police allege the killing was videotaped and posted online. Mr. Magnotta was captured in early June in an Internet cafe in Germany, reportedly looking at porn and checking out articles about himself.
His preliminary hearing for first-degree murder is scheduled for mid-March. Although his lawyers did not ask for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation to determine his criminal responsibility in the alleged crime, Mr. Magnotta’s defence team could still seek its own psychiatric assessment and present it in court.
A funeral for Mr. Lin was held in Montreal this week. His parents have said they want to remain in the city until Mr. Magnotta’s trial is over. Fundraising is under way to help pay for their stay in Canada.