The trial of accused killer Luka Rocco Magnotta will begin in September, 2014, more than two years after his arrest in the death of university student Jun Lin.
Magnotta appeared Monday in a Montreal courtroom, where his jury trial was set for Sept. 15, 2014. It is scheduled to last six to eight weeks.
Defence lawyer Luc Leclair requested an earlier start date and even asked the judge whether April, 2014, would be a possibility. Justice Andre Vincent replied that nothing was available before September.
“I expected an earlier date, but it’s a busy courthouse,” said Leclair, who has, for the most part, declined to speak to reporters.
“I’m not completely surprised.”
The shackled defendant, who sat quietly behind a glass barrier around the prisoner’s box as the date was set, will have a pre-trial conference later this year, on Sept. 3.
Magnotta, a former porn actor and stripper, was arrested last June in Berlin following an international manhunt.
Leclair explained how his client tried to speed up the process by declining to fight his extradition to Canada from Germany, a battle he said could have dragged on for up to five years.
“During that time witnesses that are essential for the Crown’s case might have left the country, the evidence would have become stale and it’s clear that the Crown’s case would have been weakened,” Leclair told reporters at the courthouse after Monday’s appearance.
“However, he decided to come back to Canada and to face the public in Montreal, in particular, who will be called to judge him. ... He came, personally, to face the court because he has faith in the Canadian judicial system.”
Magnotta’s lawyer indicated that in the meantime, he might appeal a judge’s recent decision to order the accused to stand trial for first-degree murder.
His legal team had attempted to have the charge downgraded to second-degree murder.
But Quebec court Judge Lori-Renee Weitzman ruled a few weeks ago there was sufficient evidence for Magnotta to be tried on the charge of premeditated murder. Weitzman made the decision following Magnotta’s preliminary hearing.
Leclair maintained Monday that he thinks the lesser charge is more appropriate because he believes the Crown’s evidence against his client is more “circumstantial” than “direct.”
“We are still studying the judgment that was given by the preliminary inquiry judge,” Leclair told reporters.
The Toronto lawyer said he would wait until he received a transcript of Weitzman’s ruling before deciding whether to proceed with the appeal – which, he indicated, would not have any impact on the trial’s 2014 start date.
The decision to send Magnotta to trial came at the end of a preliminary hearing that featured 32 Crown witnesses but no defence witnesses.
Pathologists, crime experts and several Montreal police officers testified for the Crown.
Others included a journalist from Britain, Canada Post employees, a senior Conservative party staffer and school officials from Vancouver. The inquiry also heard from one of Lin’s friends, who was the only witness who actually knew the victim.
The evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was subject to a court-ordered ban. While attending the proceedings, Lin’s father became distraught and left the courtroom in tears.
Magnotta faces five charges in connection with last May’s death and dismemberment of Lin, a 33-year-old Chinese national studying engineering at Concordia University.
The 30-year-old Magnotta, a native of Toronto, has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Parts of Lin’s body were mailed across Canada in a gruesome killing that made headlines around the world.
Aside from the murder charge, Magnotta is facing four additional counts related to the case: committing an indignity to a body; publishing obscene material; criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament; and mailing obscene and indecent material.