The organised nature of Canadian Luka Rocco Magnotta's alleged killing and dismemberment of a Chinese student makes it hard for lawyers to argue he is not criminally responsible, experts say.
“They will plead insanity, that is for sure,” Hugues Parent, a law professor from the University of Montreal who specialises in criminal responsibility, told AFP.
“They have no choice because they cannot deny his crimes.”
But Parent said Magnotta's alleged cannibalistic and necrophilic acts - recorded in an incriminating video and posted online - do not display the behaviour of a psychotic person who has temporarily lost contact with reality.
Magnotta, 29, is accused of stabbing Lin Jun - a Chinese student in Montreal with whom he may have had a sexual relationship - to death with an ice pick on the night of May 24-25.
He is then alleged to have mutilated and sexually abused Lin's corpse, recording the acts before posting the snuff film on the Internet and mailing Lin's hands and feet to federal political parties and public schools.
After fleeing first to Paris, Magnotta, by then dubbed the “Canadian Psycho” by the media, was eventually arrested on June 4 in an Internet cafe in Berlin, reportedly reading online stories about himself.
Appearing in court via video-link in Montreal last week following his extradition from Germany, the accused pleaded not guilty to first degree murder, committing indignities to a body and publishing obscene material.
“Because of the highly organised nature of the crime, I am far from certain that this person is psychotic,” said Parent, who is not handling Magnotta's case but believes the suspect fits the profile of a psychopath.
“In my opinion, (Magnotta) has a strong taste for cruelty; he seems indifferent to the feelings of others and displays traits of someone with an antisocial personality,” Parent said.
“He will seek satisfaction of his own needs and is ready to hurt others. And he will seek notoriety,” said Parent, who advised defence lawyers representing Guy Turcotte, a Quebec cardiologist found not criminally responsible for fatally stabbing his two children in 2009.
Turcotte's lawyers successfully argued that the father was suicidal at the time of the murder.
“As soon as you conclude that a person is not psychotic, that he is a psychopath or a person suffering from antisocial personality, the insanity plea has no hope of working,” Parent said.
Others agree that Magnotta's alleged actions appear to have been too orderly and calculated to amount to psychosis.
“From what I've seen, I cannot imagine anybody claiming that this guy's not guilty by reason of a mental defect,” said Don Dutton, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specialises in the psychology of violence and has testified in prominent trials.
“I think it's fair to say that nobody's ever seen anything quite like it. It's certainly the most horrific case that I can think of in recent Canadian history, and maybe even worldwide.”
Dutton said the alleged crimes of Magnotta - a native of Toronto who dabbled in porn acting - were even more complex than those of a psychopath.
“Psychopaths are guys who will put a bullet between your eyes and then go have lunch. They don't commit these enraged dismemberments to bring all this attention to themselves, because they want to go on being criminals the next day or the next week,” Dutton said.
“Assuming he did this stuff, there's some very deep connection of rage and sexuality and identity disturbance with this guy.”
In any case, the diagnosis of having “antisocial personality and psychopathic traits doesn't get you out of culpability with the courts,” said forensic psychiatrist Brad Booth who works at the Sexual Behaviours Clinic at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
Nor does a growing body of scientific evidence that psychopaths may suffer from lesions or abnormalities in the temporal lobe of their brains.
“Yes, maybe their brains work differently and yes maybe we can show it on the scans but they know the wrongfulness of it or should know the wrongfulness of it,” Booth said.
“The approach to these individuals is that they will be locked up, regardless of the motivations or whether what led to the behaviour is treatable.”
Magnotta's next court date is scheduled for early next year, and a preliminary hearing is due in March ahead of an eventual trial.
He is currently being held at a detention facility in eastern Montreal. - AFP