The case drew intense worldwide attention to a grisly west-end Montreal homicide, so it is no surprise a hearing to establish if the Crown has enough evidence to put Luka Rocco Magnotta on trial was immediately sidetracked by debate over the media spotlight.
Mr. Magnotta, the man accused of first-degree murder in the death and dismemberment of Concordia student Lin Jun, petitioned Quebec court Judge Lori-Renée Weitzman on Monday to take the exceedingly rare step of banning the public from his preliminary hearing. Defence lawyer Luc Leclair said he wants to prevent information leaks from damaging Mr. Magnotta’s right to a fair trial.
Mr. Magnotta, 30, is accused of killing Mr. Lin, a 33-year-old computer engineering student, in May, 2012. Parts of Mr. Lin’s body were found in a suitcase on the curb near a Montreal apartment building, at a Montreal park, and in the mail at political party offices in Ottawa and elementary schools in Vancouver. The manhunt made international headlines and led police to France and Germany before Mr. Magnotta was arrested at an internet café in Berlin.
Mr. Leclair argued the usual fair process safeguards – the fact that a potential trial is many months away and a blanket ban prevents the publication of any evidence from the preliminary hearing – are not enough given the case’s notoriety.
Mr. Leclair said everything from Mr. Magnotta’s dress and demeanour (he was calm and wearing handcuffs along with an all-white outfit of sneakers, slacks and a T-shirt) to courtroom descriptions (Mr. Magnotta was in a glass prisoner’s box in a courtroom with extra security) to procedural manoeuvres (such as Mr. Leclair’s call for closed-door session) could taint a jury.
“The jury pool is out there, and the jury pool is listening,” Mr. Leclair said.
The judge refused to ban Monday’s arguments and descriptions from being published, and will decide on Tuesday whether to ban the public from the rest of the hearing – a step with few precedents in recent Canadian law.
Mr. Lin’s father, Lin Diran, was in the courtroom and had hired a lawyer to oppose closing the hearing, which would prevent him from attending after he travelled with his wife and daughter from China.
Mark Bantey, the lawyer hired by news organizations including The Globe and Mail, said Mr. Leclair has offered no legitimate grounds to ban all observers from attending the preliminary hearing.
“There is no constitutional right for a trial to be free of pretrial publicity,” Mr. Bantey told the judge. “And you should not be asked to counter a speculative danger …with a draconian request.”
Mr. Magnotta also faces charges of publishing obscene material, committing an indignity to a body, criminally harassing the Prime Minister and other members of Parliament, and mailing obscene and indecent material.
An escort, model and actor in pornographic videos with a heavy online presence, Mr. Magnotta legally changed his name from Eric Clinton Kirk Newman on Aug. 12, 2006, while he still lived in Ontario.
Mr. Lelcair said he had earlier asked court officials for a curtain to shield Mr. Magnotta from public gaze during the preliminary hearing. Judge Weitzman told Mr. Leclair the law allows Mr. Magnotta to observe his hearing by video from another location, an option the defence lawyer declined to pursue.