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An undated handout photograph of Edmonton filmmaker Mark Twitchell, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Johnny Altinger.

The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

From the beginning, the case seemed to tread an unsettling line between fiction and reality - a filmmaker produces a short movie about a killer, is found with a diary outlining the same details, and is then accused of an eerily similar slaying himself.

On Tuesday, a jury agreed that Mark Twitchell conceived of a brutal slaying both in fiction and reality, finding him guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of Johnny Altinger.

Mr. Altinger, then 38, was lured to a garage, bludgeoned and stabbed by Mr. Twitchell before being cut apart, partially burned and then dumped, in garbage bags, into a storm sewer.

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The 12-member jury, comprised equally of men and women, returned the verdict after just over five hours of deliberations. When they did, the family of Mr. Altinger gasped and clasped hands.

"Thank heavens it came in that way," mother Elfriede Altinger said outside court, shaking while she telephoned relatives to let them know. "I just can't speak," she said with a laugh.

Victim-impact statements were read later Tuesday evening as part of sentencing procedures, painting a portrait of a family torn apart by Mr. Altinger's slaying 30 months ago.

Brother Gary Altinger said he and his wife have stress-related illnesses after the murder, and that their children wake often from nightmares about monsters.

"It's impossible to be honest with them, knowing monsters do live among us," said the brother's statement, read by a Crown attorney.

"There were no words to describe the pain and feeling of horror one goes through," his mother added in her statement, also read by a Crown attorney. "There is no joy in my life. It's been ripped away from me," she said, adding it was her wish Mr. Twitchell "die a slow death" in prison reflecting on his crime.

"The telephone company hasn't reassigned Johnny's phone numbers. And as of this writing, I still call to hear his voice message," she added.

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Mr. Twitchell, 31, was asked if he had anything to add. "I think I'll pass on that," he said quietly.

The jury's decision, comprised of a checkmark made on a single page of paper, will be entered as the final exhibit in a three-week, high-profile trial that has drawn attention across Canada and the United States and inspired a soon to-be-published book.

The Crown came into the case armed with a pile of technical evidence, forensic evidence and witness statements.

Among the witnesses was Gilles Tetreault, who court heard escaped a similar attack by Mr. Twitchell a week before Mr. Altinger's death, and Renee Waring, who Mr. Twitchell told over Facebook that he'd "crossed the line" on the weekend of Mr. Altinger's death, before discussing in detail the best way to kill someone.

The digital evidence included a so-called diary, titled "SKconfessions," which police found in a deleted file on Mr. Twitchell's computer.

"This is the story of my progression into becoming a serial killer," it began. The Crown alleged that Mr. Twitchell was the author.

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Police also found more than 1,600 photos related to the charges on Mr. Twitchell's laptop.

Court also heard evidence that Mr. Altinger's blood was found on several articles of clothing and a knife belonging to Mr. Twitchell, effectively turning the trial into a question of self-defence. Dozens of pieces of evidence tying Mr. Twitchell to Mr. Altinger's death were found in Mr. Twitchell's home, car, his parents' home, a rented garage where the death occurred, and in Mr. Altinger's car, which Mr. Twitchell used after the murder.

Mr. Twitchell also admitted to accessing Mr. Altinger's e-mail after his death, telling Mr. Altinger's friends unconvincingly that he was away on vacation.

Despite the mountain of evidence, Judge Terry Clackson was careful to give Mr. Twitchell every benefit of the doubt.

He warned the jury that much of the evidence could be attributed to Mr. Twitchell "buying time" after the death and not necessarily suggest a planned murder.

"It is important that Mr. Twitchell is not convicted simply because he appears to be a bad person, or an immoral person," the judge had said in two hours of legal instruction given to the jury.

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At the beginning of the trial, Mr. Twitchell, through his lawyer, attempted to plead guilty to the lesser charge of interfering with a dead body. The Crown rejected that offer and proceeded with the first-degree murder charge.

Mr. Twitchell was given the mandatory sentence - life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years, after what the judge called a "very difficult case." Mr. Twitchell is also barred from owning a series of weapons, and will need to provide DNA samples to justice officials.

As he was led out of court, a family member of Mr. Altinger yelled: "Bye, have fun."

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