Judge rejects Luka Magnotta's request to boot public, journalists from hearing
MONTREAL — The preliminary hearing for accused dismemberer Luka Rocco Magnotta got underway Tuesday after he lost a bid to bar the public and media from the courtroom.
Det.-Sgt. Michel Bourque from the Montreal police major crimes unit, testified under a publication ban. Bourque, the chief investigator on the Magnotta case, was questioned by defence lawyer Luc Leclair.
Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec court judge Lori-Renee Weitzman rejected Magnotta's claim that intense media coverage of the former small-time porn actor's arrest and incarceration jeopardizes his right to a fair trial.
She said her publication ban, issued on January 9, protects potential jurors from hearing incriminating information.
"It is nothing short of speculation ... to argue that the publication ban is insufficient to protect the accused's ... rights (to a fair trial)," Weitzman told the packed courtroom as Magnotta sat, shackled and expressionless, in the glass-enclosed prisoners' box.
The judge added: "Our criminal justice system is based on unflinching faith in our juries' ability to follow instructions of the trial judge and to ignore information not presented to them at trial."
Magnotta, 30, is accused of killing and butchering Chinese student Jun Lin last May.
Defence lawyer Luc Leclair wanted the public gallery emptied under a rarely-used provision of the Criminal Code.
Section 537 allows a judge to bar onlookers and media from a courtroom "where it appears to him that the ends of justice will be best served by so doing."
Leclair told the judge Monday that reports about court hearings, high security and even Magnotta's body language and wardrobe could taint the jury pool.
The Toronto native has been in a high-security wing of a Montreal jail since his arrest in Europe last June following a six-day international manhunt.
He faces several charges including first-degree murder and indignity to a human body.
Lin's body parts were mailed out to political parties and two Vancouver schools in a case that made international headlines last spring.
A janitor found Lin's torso in a suitcase outside Magnotta's west-end Montreal apartment.
The victim's head was later found in a Montreal park.
The murder and dismemberment, as well as cannibalistic and necrophilic acts, were filmed and posted to a gore website.
Magnotta was one of the world's most wanted men until Berlin police arrested him at an Internet cafe.
Canadian and world media reported widely on Magnotta's reality-show auditions and alleged torture of small animals.
The Crown plans to call at least 15 witnesses at the preliminary hearing, including forensic experts.
The prosecution is also expected to call police officers from Berlin and Paris, where Magnotta visited before fleeing to Germany.
By Brian Daly ,QMI Agency