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Magnotta trial will come down to accused’s state of mind

Article originally published on September 29, 2014 by Advocate Daily.

Luka Rocco Magnotta’s lawyer says his client is not criminally responsible in the slaying of Chinese student Jun Lin and that he is schizophrenic.

Luc Leclair told the jurors at Magnotta’s first-degree murder trial today that he will mount a mental disorder defence and that the accused’s state of mind will be central to the case.

Leclair’s comments came after the trial judge told jurors that Magnotta had admitted to the murder and other criminal acts connected to the slaying in May 2012.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer advised the jurors their task will be to determine Magnotta’s state of mind when he committed the murder.

In an interview with, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett says the jury will have to determine whether Magnotta had the ability to know right from wrong when he committed the offence.

“That is the test in s. 16 of the Criminal Code,” he says. “To do that, his lawyer will likely lead with evidence that he was suffering from a major mental illness to show that its operation on the client’s mind deprived him of the ability to appreciate the nature and consequences of his acts.”

He says assessing an accused’s state of mind can be difficult for a jury, but in cases where the mental illness is well-documented and where the symptoms are observable by a large number of people at the relevant time, such as around the time of the offence, it can be a relatively straight forward process.

“Many of the cases, however, turn on previously undiagnosed medical conditions, which emerge for the first time during the course of the offence, or the condition is one that has a wide range of effects on human behaviour, from the mild to the profound,” he says. “Somebody can be ill but not so ill as to cause them to not understand the nature and quality of their acts.”

Harnett says the structure of the Magnotta trial will likely be based on the presentation of doctors’ evidence.

He notes the difference between someone who is found not fit to stand trial and someone who is not criminally responsible (NCR).

“Fitness is the road to the trial; NCR is what happens at the end of the trial,” he says. “So if the accused is not competent to be able to withstand the journey to the end of the trial because he is so ill that he is not, in any meaningful way, mentally present for the trial, that’s fitness. Fitness can come and go – you can be fit and then fall off your meds and become unfit. When you’re in a state of unfitness, you don’t know what’s going on and if that occurs during the trial process, the proceedings stop and the person goes off to the hospital until they become fit again, if ever.”

Despite the admission, Magnotta pleaded not guilty again to five charges in connection with Lin’s death.

He entered the pleas at the beginning of his first-degree murder trial, which is being heard by a bilingual eight-woman, six-man jury.

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