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Luka Rocco Magnotta in a courtroom sketch, Jan. 9, 2013 in Montreal.

Mike McLaughlin

Luka Magnotta sat stony-faced and impassive, his eyes frequently shut, as a court in Montreal began laying the legal groundwork of what is expected to be one of Canada's most lurid and sensational criminal trials in recent years.

Lawyers for the Crown and defence met under a hefty media presence Wednesday in the high-profile murder case against Mr. Magnotta, who is charged in the death and dismemberment of Montreal university student Lin Jun last May.

While Mr. Magnotta sat in handcuffs and shackles behind a tall glass enclosure, lawyers agreed to set aside extra days for his preliminary inquiry, which begins March 11 and determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

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Most of what was presented during the pretrial hearing was struck by a reporting ban.

Prosecutor Louis Bouthillier said he plans to call 15 or more witnesses, some from overseas, and disclosed before Judge Lori Weitzman that the investigation into the slaying of the Chinese computer-science student in May last year is not yet wrapped up.

"If we get [new] information, we will make sure that we will transfer the information to our colleagues in the defence," Crown spokesman Jean–Pascal Boucher told reporters after the hearing.

In a glimpse into the notoriety of the case, reporters began lining up 2 hours before the start of the routine court date and quickly filled the 12 seats inside the high-security courtroom, the remainder spilling into an overflow room.

The intensive coverage assures exposure for a macabre case that made international headlines as its details began unfolding last year with the mysterious mailing of body parts to federal political parties in Ottawa. That followed with an international manhunt that ended with Mr. Magnotta's arrest in a Berlin internet café in June while he was reading up on himself.

Mr. Magnotta, 30, frequently kept his eyes closed or downcast at Wednesday's appearance and conferred only briefly at the end of the 38-minute hearing with his lawyer, Luc Leclair.

Mr. Magnotta faces several charges, including first-degree murder, committing an indignity to a body, mailing obscene material and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other MPs. The onetime escort and small-time porn actor from suburban Toronto is suspected of mailing Mr. Lin's body parts to the Conservative and Liberal parties in Ottawa and to two Vancouver schools, and posting a video of his alleged crime on the Internet.

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