Making an appearance in the same way he has presented himself so often to the world – on a screen – Luka Magnotta faced a Montreal court for the first time to plead not guilty to the first-degree murder of university student Lin Jun.
Displaying none of the studied swagger of his prior appearances on reality show auditions and glossy online photos, Mr. Magnotta stood impassively in a pale and baggy jacket Tuesday as he was arraigned via video link from a police operations centre in north-end Montreal.
Aside from a brief “Okay” in response to a question from his lawyer, the former male escort said nothing.
The three-minute appearance before a courtroom packed with journalists and curious onlookers marked the start of what is likely to be a long and sensational trial.
Mr. Magnotta's lawyer, Pierre Panaccio, asked the judge for a delay until Thursday to consider seeking a psychiatric evaluation for his client. The request would send Mr. Magnotta to a psychiatric facility for up to 30 days and determine whether the 29-year-old Ontario native could be held criminally responsible in Mr. Lin's gruesome death and dismemberment.
In addition to murder, Mr. Magnotta faces four accessory charges: committing an indignity to a human body, posting obscene material, mailing obscene material and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other MPs.
The decision to have Mr. Magnotta appear by video link – a fate often reserved for mass arraignments of alleged mob figures – is a sign of the notoriety of the bizarre case, whose reach has been propelled in part by the Internet. Police believe Mr. Lin's slaying was recorded and posted online; pieces of the victim were also mailed to political parties in Ottawa as well as schools in Vancouver.
Mr. Magnotta's return to Canadian soil from Germany on Monday marshalled a hefty security detail; police say they want to avoid causing a spectacle around his appearances.
Despite the intense publicity and macabre nature of the case, Louis Bouthillier, one of two star prosecutors assigned to the trial, expressed confidence the matter could be properly handled by a jury. “Sure, it's going to be a difficult case but … when you speak of murder, they're always difficult cases for the jury.”
The prosecution is also intent on supporting Mr. Lin's family, who arrived in Montreal from China this month. Prosecutors plan to meet soon with family members, who include Mr. Lin's parents.
“It's the beginning of a very, very long year or two years, so we'll try to help them go through this,” prosecutor Hélène Di Salvo said. “At one point, they will go back to their country, and my colleague and I really want them to believe in our justice system, and we'll do our best to reassure them that we'll work very, very hard in this case.”
She said the failure to date to retrieve Mr. Lin's head has been trying for the Lin family, who considers it “very, very important.”
Montreal police investigators interrogated Mr. Magnotta on the whereabouts of the head on Tuesday morning, without success. “We're no closer for the moment,” Commander Ian Lafrenière said. “We haven't learned anything.”
Mr. Magnotta was transferred to Montreal's Rivière-des-Prairies jail.
Both Crown attorneys are veterans who have successfully prosecuted high-profile murder cases, including that of a Mountie convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend. As for Mr. Panaccio, he is known for having defended members of the Hells Angels biker gang. Reached at his office after the arraignment, Mr. Panaccio declined to be interviewed but said it hasn't been decided whether he will be Mr. Magnotta's lawyer for his trial.