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Luka Magnotta trial: Crown accuses psychiatrist of changing sides

11/17/2014 06:20 EST | Updated 01/17/2015 05:59 EST
Dr. Joel Watts, the forensic psychiatrist hired by the defence to assess LukaMagnotta’s criminal responsibility, was initially on the Montreal police payroll, the first-degree murder trial heard on Monday.

The psychiatrist from Montreal's Pinel Institute was asked to be part of the team sent to escort Magnotta back to Canada after his June 2012 arrest in Berlin, since German authorities required a doctor to be present.

Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier grilled the witness on the two roles Monday, asking Watts why he changed sides to work for the defence just three months after working for the police.

Watts defended himself, explaining it’s common for forensic psychiatrists to wear two hats, both as a treating psychiatrist and as a forensic psychiatrist charged with objectively assessing a patient.

The psychiatrist specified that his role in the extradition process was unusual, because it was the first time a Canadian psychiatrist had been asked to perform such a task, and on the Berlin trip he was a treating psychiatrist with a “very limited role.”

Watts noted that psychiatrists are aware of a potential to be swayed if they are treating a patient they want to help, but he said he was not worried about that in this case.

“I didn’t feel as though I had a particular bias either way, and I felt that I was able to do the job for the defence,” Watts testified.

The psychiatrist also rejected the prosecution’s suggestion he was lured by the high-profile nature of the case, although Watts said he was attracted by what promised to be an interesting and challenging assessment.

Bouthillier noted the psychiatrist had remarked that his initial impression of Magnotta in Berlin was that he was putting on a show, but Watts said he later came to believe the accused was not faking his psychotic symptoms.

Watts is one of two psychiatrists hired by the defence who have concluded Magnotta is not criminally responsible for the charges against him because he was in a psychotic state when he committed the crime.

The Crown alleges the killing was premeditated.

No explanation for wearing clothing

Earlier in the day, Watts was shown surveillance video in which Magnotta is seen leaving his apartment a few hours after the killing, wearing victim Jun Lin’s yellow T-shirt and blue baseball cap.

The psychiatrist said Magnotta told him he couldn’t remember why he decided to wear the clothing, other than that he liked it, particularly the baseball cap.

“He said he thought it looked nice,” Watts told the Montreal court, which has heard Magnotta kept the hat and had it in his luggage when he was arrested.

The psychiatrist also noted the accused looked organized, calm and didn’t betray any visible symptoms of his illness on the videotape, which Watts said is not uncommon.

Watts testified that Magnotta was aware there were cameras in the lobby and “they weren’t a preoccupation for him.”

The psychiatrist also told the court that Magnotta talked about an ex-client, Manny, who told him the victim was a government agent and instructed him what to do after the killing.

The court has not heard proof that Manny, or Manuel Lopez, exists.

Watts addressed the problem, saying he believes Manny is perhaps a real person, but that at some point, Magnotta’s experience with Manny was no longer based in reality and became rooted in hallucination.

Trial to last longer than expected

As the trial entered its eighth week, Judge Guy Cournoyer warned the jury that it will last longer than expected. He told the jurors he will likely deliver his final instructions the first week of December, after which the jury will begin deliberating.

Fourteen jurors have listened to the testimony, but two will be dismissed before deliberations begin, leaving only 12 who will deliver the verdict.

The trial resumes Tuesday with more of the Crown’s cross-examination of Dr. Watts.

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