Rocco Magnotta, the Montreal suspect in a gruesome dismemberment-murder of Lin
Jun, is seen in court in an artist drawing Thursday, June 21 2012 in Montreal -
Photograph by: Mike McLaughlin, CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL - Claiming to be not criminally responsible for
psychological reasons might be the only feasible defence for Luka Rocco
Magnotta given the wealth of evidence against him, legal experts say,
but the chances of him getting off on that basis are close to nil. If
Magnotta did commit the crimes with which he is charged, there’s little
doubt there were mental issues that led to his actions, said Université
de Montréal law professor Hugues Parent, an expert in the field of
criminal responsibility. Parent stressed that he has not seen
psychiatric evaluations of Magnotta, but based on the information widely
disseminated, including a video of the act, it’s clear the guilty party
“is somebody who has mental problems recognized in the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – a type of psychopath with
sadistic sexual tendencies. If you put the two together, it’s an
explosive cocktail.” Included among the crimes Magnotta is alleged to
have committed are murder and sexual interference with a corpse. He is
also suspected of having eaten parts of the body.
“But it’s not
the kind of mental problem that has ever been accepted in criminal law
(in Canada) as leading to a verdict of not criminally responsible,”
Under the Canadian legal system, a defendant would
have to show they suffered a breach from reality at the time of the
crime that left them unable to judge whether their actions were good or
bad. Typically this is seen in the case of people suffering from
psychoses, such as paranoid schizophrenics under the spell of their
delusions. A schizophrenic who kills his neighbour because God told him
he the neighbour was Satan and had to be destroyed to save mankind would
qualify. In a study of 1,969 people in Quebec who were declared not
criminally responsible for their crimes between 2001 and 2005 by the
Douglas Mental Health University Institute, more than 65 per cent had a
diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Last year’s high-profile case of Guy
Turcotte, the Montreal cardiologist who killed his two children, was at
the outer limits of the legal system’s tolerance, Parent said.
Turcotte’s legal team, of which Parent was a member, argued the doctor
was a psychological, suicidal wreck who suffered a breach from reality
and killed his children believing it would spare them a fatherless life.
A jury concurred with that version of facts.
Article 16(1) of
Canada’s Criminal Code regarding individuals considered not criminally
responsible on account of mental disorder reads: “No person is
criminally responsible for an act committed ... while suffering from a
mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the
nature and quality of the act ... or of knowing that it was wrong.”
in a 1994 decision, Parent notes, the Supreme Court specified that
article of the code does not apply to crimes committed by psychopaths.
of a psychopath include lack of sense of guilt or empathy,
egocentricity, shallow emotions and a history of victimizing others.
true that psychopaths are dominated by their sickness, that their
disease plays a role. But if we start to accept that (as a defence) we
are finished, and the law is clear on that,” he said. “Three-quarters of
the people in our prisons are psychopaths.”
Psychopaths are also
very hard to rehabilitate, he said. A personality that has been formed
is very hard to change, as opposed to diseases like schizophrenia or
depression that can be treated with drugs.
If Parent were working
on Magnotta’s defence team, he said he would argue that his client
suffers from sociopathic tendencies, a lack of empathy for others,
sexual sadism and extreme narcissism, and this contributed to the acts
he is alleged to have committed.
“I am not sure that he was
capable of rational choice at the time of the acts,” Parent said. Which
goes to the concept of free will – did Magnotta act of free will, or was
his choice based on his sickness? It must be the mental issues, Parent
would argue, because if he wasn’t sick, he would not have acted that
But given legal precedence in Canada, and the timing of the
Magnotta case, one year after Turcotte’s highly divisive verdict, Parent
sees little hope in that defensive gambit.
“If I had to give a legal opinion – I would say, frankly, that he will go to prison for the rest of his life.” - The Montreal Gazette