Twelve people are in line on the fifth floor of the Montreal courthouse.
They’re sitting down while waiting for someone to open the door of the room where the murder trial of Luka Rocco Magnotta takes place. A security guard walks by and stops by the room. “Stand up, please. Just to let you know, it’s no more than eight,” he says before opening the door.
That means that four in the group must head to one of two overflow rooms, each sitting about 50 people and located three floors below.
The Magnotta trial is indeed popular.
Yet, one question remains—why head to the Montreal courthouse, on Notre-Dame Street, to follow the case of this alleged monster?
Francis, of Montreal, has a day off and wanted to do something productive. He hopes to one day be a police officer, and has good timing too—he’s here on the very day that Det.-Sgt. Antonio Paradiso is brought in as a witness.
Something for everyone
The victimization student here, the Concordia University journalism students, or the average John and Jane Doe, they all have a reason to be here—most folks remember the gory details of this violent crime and the manhunt that followed in 2012.
“He managed to showcase himself like no one ever had,” Patrick said. The third-year law student adds that, “This is someone who was looking to become famous by any means necessary.”
And in a twisted way, it has sort of worked.
Elizabeth, a young woman who works at a Montreal restaurant, has been following the trial since its beginning. “Nothing has ever happened so close to home that is so interesting,” she says. But despite her daily presence, she says she still hasn’t managed to understand Magnotta’s actions, nor the crime itself.
A different trial that’s the same as any other
This case is unique in unique ways, but it’s also not: inside a courtroom, the trial is like any other one. It progresses slowly and meticulously. And at times, it is long and almost tedious, as all trials tend to be.
This trial brings to life the open court principle. In Canada, the courts are open to the public and the media, with some exceptions, to ensure their integrity in the eyes and minds of the population.
Not everyone is convinced, however. Patrick, who temporarily worked on the Magnotta case for Radio-Canada’s Enquête in 2012, believes it is all different—especially so when you’re sitting in one of the overflow rooms. “We can’t see as well,” he says, “and everyone talks more among themselves.”
It’s more intimidating inside the courtroom itself. You’re just a few meters away from the accused, who sits behind a large glass window and remains calm throughout. You sit so close to the lawyers that when forensic biologist Jacinthe Prévost discusses a bloodstain in the fridge of Magnotta’s old apartment, you see it clearly.
Gabriel, of Montreal, admits that this may be “a sign that our society may be a bit voyeuristic.”
Parallel with Guy Turcotte
Plenty are fascinated with the defence of not criminally responsible. Gabriel finds it difficult to accept the concept that entered Quebec’s collective mind with the case of Guy Turcotte. “Someone can receive treatments, yes” he says, “but somehow, you need to remain responsible of the crime you commit.”
The fact that this is a jury trial is also a point of interest, because “it makes it absolutely fascinating,” Patrick says.
What quickly becomes obvious is that following the trial is a way for some to meet like-minded folks. That’s the case for those waiting in line outside of the courtroom. A core of them have been here since the first day, arriving early each morning for one of the eight sports. They remain in line during the lunch break too, choosing a homemade sandwich and a seat inside the room over other lunch options in Old Montreal (and a sea in the overflow rooms).
The break lasts 90 minutes and during that time, they discuss the case and compare notes from the previous days. They’re sitting on the ground, but they’ll soon stand up. They don’t want to miss a thing.