It was an unanswered question until now: What mental illness had Luka Magnotta been diagnosed with before he garnered international notoriety last year, accused of killing and dismembering a Montreal university student from China?
Paranoid schizophrenia, detected when he was a teenager, reveals a 2005 medical letter made public Wednesday as a result of an application to the Ontario Court of Justice by The Globe and Mail and several other media organizations.
The two-page letter from psychiatrist Thuraisamy Sooriabalan, presented at Mr. Magnotta’s sentencing for fraud nearly eight years ago, offers the clearest glimpse yet into the mental health of the onetime escort who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Then 22 years old and known by his birth name, Eric Clinton Newman, Mr. Magnotta had been in hospital several times because of his psychiatric disorder, a lifelong illness.
His treatment at the time included psychotherapy, health education and five medications – three antipsychotic drugs, one to reduce anxiety and a sedative to help him sleep. However, Mr. Magnotta didn’t always take his prescriptions, Dr. Sooriabalan noted on May 30, 2005, in his letter to defence lawyer Peter Scully.
“As far as the prognosis is concerned, as long as Mr. Newman continues to take the medications regularly, and attends the outpatient department as advised, the prognosis is fair,” said Dr. Sooriabalan of the Rouge Valley Health System, “but if he does not comply in taking the medication, he would be prone to relapse of his symptoms, which include paranoia, auditory hallucinations, fear of the unknown, etc.”
While it is unclear how Mr. Magnotta’s mental health and treatment changed over the years, Dr. Sooriabalan’s medical assessment played a significant role at Mr. Magnotta’s Toronto fraud sentencing in June, 2005. Court transcripts show his letter prompted Madam Justice Lauren Marshall to significantly reduce the community service included in Mr. Magnotta’s nine-month conditional sentence and one year of probation because she didn’t think he could cope with the 100 hours proposed by the Crown.
What isn’t known is whether Mr. Magnotta followed the judge’s orders, which included taking his medication and receiving treatment for mental-health issues. Citing privacy policies, a spokesman with Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services said Wednesday he could not comment on Mr. Magnotta’s time under the watch of probation officers.
Mr. Scully and Mr. Magnotta’s current defence lawyer, Luc Leclair, also declined to comment on the 2005 mental-health letter. After being denied access to the letter, The Globe and Mail and other media outlets asked the Ontario Court of Justice to rule on the matter.
Mr. Leclair had argued in court earlier this year against the document’s release, noting a publication ban exists on evidence being presented at his client’s preliminary hearing on first-degree murder in Montreal.
Mr. Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice disagreed, ruling on Tuesday that making the letter public would not impair Mr. Magnotta’s right to a fair trial. In his 12-page judgment, Judge O’Donnell noted “transparency is the lifeblood of democratic states.”
“Without access to the letter, the public is not in a position to engage in a meaningful assessment or debate over the appropriateness of what happened to Mr. Newman in 2005 in what is supposed to be an open and transparent court process,” Judge O’Donnell stated.
Before his encounter with the law in 2005, Mr. Magnotta did not have a criminal record. The small-time porn actor who seemingly lived his life online became the subject of an international manhunt last spring after university student Lin Jun was found dismembered. The 33-year-old from China had been studying computer engineering at Concordia University in Montreal.
His body parts were mailed to the Conservative and Liberal parties in Ottawa and to two Vancouver schools. A video of the alleged crime was posted on the Internet.
Mr. Magnotta faces numerous charges, including first-degree murder, committing an indignity to a body, mailing obscene material, and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other MPs. His preliminary hearing, scheduled to resume April 8, will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Mr. Lin’s parents are staying in Montreal to follow the court proceedings. They met with journalists on Tuesday to talk about their son ahead of the Qingming festival, a traditional Chinese date for families to commemorate ancestors and the deceased.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Lin’s mother, Du Zhigui, said she struggles daily to cope with his death and has lost the will to live.
Back in 2005 in Toronto, Mr. Magnotta had 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, he pleaded guilty to defrauding three retail stores of thousands of dollars and to impersonating the same young woman to obtain a credit card. His victim was extremely vulnerable, court transcripts show. She was 21 years old but had the mental capacity of an eight– to 12-year-old child.
In sentencing Mr. Magnotta for fraud, Judge 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.”
With a report from The Canadian Press