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Luka Rocco Magnotta is pictured in a photo released on June 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Montreal PoliceThe Canadian Press

One woman entered the courtroom in tears, another said she's been sickened to her stomach for two years. A man from Lebanon said he had lived through war and already felt anguish about the case.

Evidence has not even started to be presented in the murder and dismemberment trial of Luka Rocco Magnotta, and already potential jurors are lining up to justify why they don't want to be part of it.

As jury selection got under way Monday in the opening of one of Canada's most sensational criminal trials, the parade of people seeking an exemption from jury duty highlighted the formidable challenges in the case.

Prospective jurors are being asked to remain unbiased in judging a man already so well-known, he was named Canadian Press's Newsmaker of the Year in 2012. Shocking elements of the case, such as the posting of an apparent slaying online and the mailing of human body parts to federal political parties, boosted its notoriety worldwide.

Even Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer told a juror on Monday, "you would have had to be absent from a lot of places on the planet" to be unaware of the Magnotta case.

As the judge spoke, Mr. Magnotta sat behind protective glass in the box of the accused, charged with the murder of Chinese engineering student Jun Lin in 2012. The 32-year-old is almost unrecognizable from the baby-faced suspect whose image circulated after his arrest. Paunchy, his face seemingly swollen and marked by a thin mustache, he sat with little emotion and occasionally closed his eyes as proceedings unfolded.

A court sheriff has convened an enormous pool of 1,600 candidates to find 12 people and two alternates able to judge Mr. Magnotta. Justice Cournoyer told the first batch of 400 at Montreal's provincial courthouse Monday that, contrary to some media reports, no video exists of the actual murder of Mr. Lin.

He warned them, however, that the violent and sexual nature of some of the evidence to be presented at trial could be "shocking and disturbing" for some.

Most of the men and women who begged off serving said they were not fluent enough in English to qualify as bilingual – another prerequisite for the trial. The trial is to be in both official languages.

Others stood before the judge and cited health, age, family and work constraints. But several pleaded that they could not be impartial and invoked the brutal nature of the high-profile case.

The very first juror in the room said outright she'd have a hard time being open-minded. A woman from Concordia University in Montreal – the downtown school where Mr. Lin had studied – said she had worked as an adviser for international students, many of them from China, and she "shared the pain" of Mr. Lin's parents. She was dismissed.

Another – the one who said she'd felt sickened by the case – added that Mr. Magnotta ought to have been "castrated two years ago." One man wearing a hoodie and backpack said he'd watched an alleged murder video on the Internet and felt biased.

Mr. Magnotta's lawyer, Luc Leclair, described jury selection as "the most important part" of the long-awaited trial. While he acknowledged there had been pre-trial publicity, he said he was seeking jurors who were open-minded and intelligent, and able to listen to evidence rather than "some kind of preconceived idea of what the case is about."

Of Monday's initial prospects, 87 were willing to be jurors. Once picked, their task will come down to judging Mr. Magnotta not on what they've already heard or seen, but what is presented during the trial, the Crown says.

"What counts is finding people capable of basing their judgment solely on the evidence presented in court," said Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesman for the Crown prosecutor's office.

In addition to first-degree murder, Mr. Magnotta is charged with 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.

Jury selection is scheduled to last two weeks, with the trial proper beginning Sept. 22. Once under way, the trial is to hear from 60 witnesses and last six to eight weeks.