POLITICS

Curious court watchers take in Luka Rocco Magnotta's first-degree murder trial

09/29/2014 05:53 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - The opening day of Luka Rocco Magnotta's murder trial lured the curious to Montreal's courthouse, those hoping to grab a front-row seat as the curtain raised on the disturbing case.

A handful of court watchers started lining up outside the building hours before proceedings were scheduled to begin. Their goal was to secure one of the five spots reserved for the public and a guaranteed close-up for the opening presentations of the highly anticipated trial.

The moment a security guard unlocked the courthouse entrance Monday, a few people sprinted past him and raced up several flights of stairs to queue up outside the room.

The first member of the public in line was a man named Robin who —much like Magnotta's victim, Jun Lin — came to Montreal from China for university studies.

Robin, who declined to give his family name, showed up at 6:15 a.m. to ensure he snared one of the precious few seats for a case that made major headlines back home.

"Before I came (to Canada last year), I had already heard about it," said the Universite de Montreal law student, who hoped to learn about the Canadian court system while listening to the lawyers' opening remarks.

"It's explosive news in China and in Canada as well."

Magnotta faces several charges, including first-degree murder, in Lin's death and dismemberment. The lurid details of the slaying, and the subsequent manhunt that ended with Magnotta's arrest in Berlin, grabbed attention around the world.

Those who arrived too late Monday to grab one of the five spots had to follow proceedings from separate overflow rooms, which had roughly 50 seats each.

Footage from the main chamber and images of the evidence were broadcast live on projector screens in the extra rooms.

Dominique Guilhamet was disappointed she didn't show up early enough to earn a seat in the main courtroom.

But Guilhamet, who says she's long been fascinated by prominent criminal trials, showed up early enough last year to claim a seat during Magnotta's preliminary hearing.

"I managed to get into the small courtroom, so I saw (Magnotta) up close," she said outside the overflow room, as she took a break from a newspaper puzzle she was chipped away at to help pass the time.

When asked what it was like for her to sit so close to Magnotta at the preliminary hearing, she replied: "Impressive."

"It was interesting to see him up close," she said.

"Things like this don't happen every day. It's different, very different."

Inside one of the overflow rooms Monday, Guilhamet sat at the edge of her seat when images were shown on the screen. She squirmed in her chair a couple of times and shook her head at one point after a photo of evidence was beamed in front of her.

She also partially covered her eyes with her hand and turned her head away from the screen when another gruesome image appeared.

Others headed to the courthouse for the learning experience.

Catherine Hurteau, 21, who sat in the front row of one of the overflow rooms, has been trying to get into law school. She plans to attend proceedings whenever she has the time.

"I've been following the story and it's one of the biggest trials, so that's why I wanted to be here," said Hurteau.

A McGill University law student, who was second in line for the main courtroom, said his professor encouraged the class to take in as much of the Magnotta trial as possible.

Patrick, who did not want to give his family name out of concern it would be associated with the case on the Internet, said he was interested in comparing what happened inside the courtroom to what was eventually published in the media.

He also said it would help him understand the court system.

"I arrived early because I think it makes a big difference to actually be in the courtroom and see what happens from the inside," he said, adding he thought the fact only five seats were made available to the public was a "bit ridiculous."

"It's almost as if the five seats left are just like token seats, just to say that the trial is public."

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer told the jury Monday the cramped courtroom, with only five seats reserved for journalists, was chosen because it had the necessary audio-visual technology and electronic systems for the case.

The chamber also happens to have bulletproof glass around the defendant's box, where Magnotta will be seated during the trial.

Cournoyer told jurors there were no security concerns to justify the glass enclosure around Magnotta and he asked them not to draw any "adverse inference" against the accused just because he was penned in.

- With a file from Sidhartha Banerjee

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