Murder publicity is a tricky thing. The attention we give killers becomes a frightening new incentive to violence if notoriety becomes its own twisted allure. But what’s worse? To let it pass with brevity and quiet, allowing the murderers to remain relatively anonymous, or to pay violent crime the attention the heinous act arguably deserves and watch the Ted Bundys among us become household names?
On some level it seems we actually enjoy being appalled from time to time, as if to consummate some dark cynicism built into our society. We know wars are always being fought, and politicians are always telling lies, and empathy-deprived killers are always crawling out from the woodwork and so we ask constantly, where are they?
Call it cynical, call it fetishistic, call it a bleak reality of modern life, but as long as we come to normalize a regular dose of depravity, disturbing killing stories will circulate mainstream news at every given moment, drawing shock and awe from across continents, and sometimes around the world. But we’re not here to pass judgment. Like most story tellers we just follow precedent, perhaps while assuring our readers to fret not — there’s no shame in admitting murder, in all its horror and deplorability, is strangely fascinating. For your twisted reading pleasure, these are ten shocking murders currently on trial this year.
*Warning: Graphic descriptions follow*
10 The “Canadian Psycho”
Accused: Luka Magnotta
Crime: Killing and dismembering a student, mailing his severed limbs to political parties and elementary schools
In May 2012, former adult entertainment actor and reality TV star wannabe Luka Magnotta uploaded a video to a gore shock-site titled 1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick. The video, considered fake initially, captured a naked man tied to a bed frame being relentlessly stabbed via ice pick and kitchen knife, then proceeded to demonstrate dismembering, desecrating and cannibalising the body.
Police ultimately linked the victim, international Concordia University student Lin Jun, with a series of disturbing packages that made news in 2012. The Conservative Party of Canada’s headquarters received Jun’s left foot; his left hand, addressed to the Liberal Party, was intercepted by Canada Post. After his decomposing torso was found in a suitcase, camera evidence led to Magnotta’s abandoned apartment, and an international manhunt ensued.
Berlin police arrested Magnotta less than one month later reading stories about himself in a Berlin internet cafe. His trial is currently underway in Montreal. His defence admits to all crimes, but a not-guilty plea — citing his severe paranoid schizophrenia — seeks acquittal.
9 “Loud music” in Jacksonville
Accused: Michael David Dunn
Crime: Fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis
It was a November evening in 2012: Michael David Dunn sat in his idling car outside a gas station waiting for his wife to return with the wine and chips. Growing increasingly annoyed at the loud “thug music” booming from the car next to him, he leaned out his window and asked the rowdy teens to turn it down.
One of them obliged. But Jordan Davis (above) protested from the back seat. He and 45 year-old Dunn hurled insults at each other and tensions escalated until Dunn, claiming to have seen a gun, pulled his own from the glove compartment and fired multiple shots at Davis’ door, fatally wounding him. No gun was later found with the teenagers.
The verdict in Dunn's retrial for first-degree murder came in just this week; he has been found guilty, and is sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was already convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder for firing at Davis’ three friends. With so much gun crime in America, and some questionable verdicts surrounding seemingly racially motivated murders (like the murder of unarmed seventeen year old Trayvon Martin by neighbourhood watch agent George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of all charges on July 2013) this conviction has been seen as a step in the right direction. However, as Democratic newscaster Cenk Uygur has pointed out regarding Dunn's conviction, "We have come to such a sad point in the country [...] that we're celebrating we finally convicted someone who shot an unarmed person. Finally."
8 Satanism and witchcraft
Accused: Mark Dobson
Crime: A “cult killing” of two women
In May 2012, paramedics found Mark Dobson, 24, at the scene of a grisly crime in Barrie, Ontario. His girlfriend Mary Hepburn, 32, and friend Helen Dorrington, 52, lay surrounded by tiny dolls in a motel room, heads partially severed. Dobson, 24, spoke openly about murdering them as part of a satanic ritual to send them to another planet. The killer claims they all belonged to a cult of “demon worshippers”, and planned to complete the killings with his own suicide. The thorny double-murder trial currently underway will bring discussions of cult practice and mental illness to the courtroom.
7 Breaking Bad
Accused: Kuntal Patel
Crime: Poisoning her mother, Walter White-style
37 year-old Kuntal Patel currently faces trial in the UK for trying to kill her mother using a method inspired by the hit television series Breaking Bad. Patel allegedly spiked mother Meena’s Diet Coke with abrin — a highly toxic plant protein resembling the ricin used by fictional criminal mastermind Walter White — attained via a shady online bitcoin transaction. The mother survived.
Patel claims the poison was intended for her own suicide, citing years of abuse by her mother. After changing her mind and throwing it out, she claims, the abrin somehow found its way into her mother’s drink. The trial has yet to reach a verdict.
6 The “mini-putt murder”
Accused: Matthew Spring
Crime: Stabbing a man in the neck with a broken putter
Spring (above left) was only 18 in 2011 when he got into an altercation with Bradley Hubbard, 43, at a glow-in-the-dark golf course lobby in Barrie, Ontario. Hubbard allegedly grabbed Matthew Spring’s brother by the neck and held him against a wall before Spring stabbed him in the neck with the shaft of a broken putter, severing his jugular vein. Hubbard collapsed and died within minutes. Spring, facing second-degree murder, is claiming self-defence to the court.
5 A foiled robbery
Accused: Dante Taylor
Crime: Stabbing two women to death
In New York State this month, one Dante Taylor had to be ejected from the courtroom for screaming violently at jurors who handed him four counts of first-degree murder. Taylor was in the midst of burglarizing an empty house in New York’s Wayne County District last summer when two neighbours, Terri Moulton, 54, and daughter Stacey, 30, stopped by to feed the house cat. Taylor stabbed them both to death and set fire to their remains. He awaits sentencing on November 20, facing life in prison without parole.
4 Pistorius falls from grace
Accused: South African sprint runner Oscar Pistorius
Crime: Killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
On Valentine’s Day last year, celebrated paralympics champion Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend four times through a bathroom door in his home in Pretoria, South Africa, killing her. He claims to have mistaken her for a dangerous intruder. Courts have since decided there was insufficient evidence that Pistorius planned the murder and lessened his charge to culpable homicide (manslaughter). He returns for sentencing on October 13, and is expected to receive anywhere from 5 to 15 years in prison.
3 Death sentence for Jodi Arias?
Accused: Jodi Arias
Crime: Brutally killing her ex-boyfriend
Arias was so enraged over her breakup with boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008 that the (then) blonde beauty shot him in the head, slit his throat, and stabbed him 29 times. And yet the grotesqueness of her crime seemed to vanish rather quickly, replaced by a flirtatious attitude with the media that consumed cable channels like wildfire. It also marked a decisive low in recent legal history, with a dramatic trial broadcast completely live and featuring a phone sex call between Arias and the victim, nude photos, and bloody crime scenes. In the end, the carnival closed with a guilty verdict.
This week, Arias returns to courts for a second penalty phase to determine punishment. Jurors are being chosen from a panel of nearly 300 to assure impartiality. The world will be watching once again, though this time there are only two outcomes: 25 to life or execution.
2 12 years later
Accused: Mark Staples
Crime: First-degree murder of his adoptive father and sister
Sixteen years ago, millionaire William Staples and his daughter Rhonda Borelli disappeared from their family farm in Binbrook, Ontario. Police searched for six months before discovering their decomposed bodies under a heavy tarp in the bed of Staples’ pickup truck, parked at Toronto’s Pearson airport. Police immediately suspected the recently-bankrupt Mark Staples of trying to inherit his adoptive father’s two-and-a-half million dollar estate. But Staple had apparently done a good job of hiding his tracks: it took them 12 years to gather the evidence.
Staples was finally arrested in 2010. Now, four years later, it’s finally coming to trial. No date has been set for opening arguments, but prosecutors suspect it'll be a long finish to an already long mystery.
1 12 years old
Accused: 12 year-old Jamarion Lawhorn
Crime: Playground murder
In Kentwood, Michigan, last month, a twelve-year-old inconspicuously approached a random city yard worker and asked to borrow his phone. He dialled 9/11. “Hi. I just stabbed somebody,” he reportedly told the dispatcher. “Please pick me up. I want to die. I don't want to be on this Earth anymore.”
Jamarion is one of the youngest children ever charged with murder as an adult in the US. Minutes before he turned himself in, he repeatedly stabbed 9-year-old Michael Verkerke in the back with a knife at a local playground. The victim ran home screaming and collapsed onto his porch, dying shortly after ambulances took him to the hospital.
It’s rare that the news names child murderers, but the shockingly random nature of the killing has prompted courts to pursue an adult charge. If they don’t, Jamarion will be guaranteed a discharge at the age of 21 regardless of how they assess his mental condition. Court filings reveal the child, allegedly suicidal, comes from a highly abusive household. His defence pleads not guilty.