Before 2012, Luka Rocco Magnotta was a little-known, 4-a.m regular at a Montreal diner, where he munched on poutine and guzzled water to rehydrate after performing at a nearby strip joint.
He ends the year as a notorious international figure — an accused killer charged with stomach-turning crimes that set off a global manhunt and horrified people around the world.
Driven by his headline-grabbing spring, Mr. Magnotta has been voted Canada’s 2012 Newsmaker of the Year in the annual poll of the country’s newsrooms by The Canadian Press.
The choice, made by editors and news directors, is rooted in the eye-opening reach of a story that erupted last May after the death and dismemberment of university student Lin Jun, 33.
Mr. Magnotta now sits in a Montreal detention centre, where he awaits trial on several criminal counts, including first-degree murder in Mr. Lin’s killing. The 30-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The Montreal slaying touched regions across Canada after Mr. Lin’s hands and feet were mailed separately to four locations in British Columbia and Ottawa.
The bizarre circumstances around Mr. Lin’s death also hit the public radar on two other continents.
The news landed in Mr. Lin’s native country of China, where his parents still live. He had left his homeland to study computer engineering in Canada.
The story also spread to Europe. The high-profile search by authorities for Mr. Magnotta ended with his June arrest in a Berlin Internet cafe, where he was reportedly reading online articles about himself.
The public’s interest was drawn in by the rare horror of the accusations against Mr. Magnotta, a small-time porn actor, stripper and escort who was dubbed “Canadian Psycho” by some foreign media.
“The depravity of the charges that Luka Magnotta faces proves truth truly is stranger than fiction,” said Victor Krasowski, CJUK/CKTG news director in Thunder Bay, Ont., who voted for Mr. Magnotta.
James O’Connor, managing editor of the Brandon Sun, said the allegations against Mr. Magnotta “ripped the lid off the unimaginably depraved underworld” of sadistic sex, mutilation and death.
Mr. Lin’s torso was found in a suitcase outside Mr. Magnotta’s apartment building, his hands and feet were mailed to political offices in Ottawa and schools in B.C., and his head was discovered in a Montreal park.
There was also the infamous video posted online that police believe showed the dismemberment.
In the gruesome footage, a person is seen repeatedly stabbing a naked young man with an ice pick. The killer later dismembers the corpse and appears to commit sexual and cannibalistic acts on it.
Mr. Magnotta had a prolific online presence, with details about his life embellished and fabricated on Internet message boards and social media.
One of Mr. Lin’s close friends believes Mr. Magnotta would take satisfaction from his selection as Newsmaker of the Year.
“That’s what he obviously wanted, isn’t it?” Benjamin, who spoke on condition that his family name not be published, told The Canadian Press.
“That’s something he’s been wanting for a very long time and he got it. But just on the cost of a life and our friend.”
Mr. Magnotta, a native of Scarborough, Ont., collected 22 per cent of Newsmaker of the Year votes to finish ahead of Vancouver-area teen Amanda Todd, whose video and suicide prompted an international discussion on bullying.
Amanda, who was sexually exploited online and subsequently bullied, received 18 per cent of the vote.
Editors who chose Amanda highlighted how her story could have a positive impact.
“This tragic teenager whose life ended far too early has the potential to live on in our memories and improve the lives of future tortured teens,” said John Hadley, news director of Vancouver’s CHQM-FM.
Amid the NHL lockout, a combined entry of league president Gary Bettman and players’ union head Donald Fehr garnered 15 per cent of the votes to finish third.
Liberal leadership front-runner and MP Justin Trudeau was the top vote-earning politician of 2012 with 8 per cent support. He shared fourth spot with the collective Quebec student protester.