Luka Magnotta showed signs of paranoid schizophrenia, says psychiatrist

After his arrest in a Berlin internet café, Luka Magnotta reported hearing voices and worrying about people spying on him as he jumped from topic to topic, according to a Berlin psychiatrist.

German psychiatric ward doctor says Magnotta believed he was being watched, heard voices

Luka Magnotta was arrested in Germany and returned to Canada in police custody a short time later. (Canadian Press)

After his arrest, Luka Magnotta reported hearing voices and worrying about people spying on him as he jumped from topic to topic, according to a Berlin psychiatrist.

Dr. Thomas Barth, testifying today at Magnotta’s first-degree murder trial in Montreal, said those can be symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

Barth observed Magnotta, whom the doctor described as shy, every day for five days after the accused was arrested in Berlin and before he was extradited to Canada on a military airplane.

The psychiatrist’s diagnosis was "a severe psychotic episode related to suspected paranoid schizophrenia." 

Barth stressed the word “suspected,” explaining that he has to be careful to follow established rules when diagnosing the most severe psychotic disorder.

“You need at least four weeks to observe a patient, and we only had one week,” Barth told the court.

Barth said that from the first meeting, Magnotta flitted between topics: the radio blasting voices in his head; an ex-boyfriend who forced him to take steroids; a woman named Jenny who was working with the “evil” Stephen Harper; and an American man called Manny who forced him into sexual acts.

Dr. Thomas Barth assessed Magnotta after he was arrested in Berlin in June 2012. (CBC)

He also worried about a woman named Debby, who Magnotta said had cast a spell on him and was recording everything with a camera and watching him through a telescope.

“It came out of the blue, as with almost everything he presented,” the doctor said when asked how Debby’s name came up.

Magnotta spoke with no emotion and in a monotonous voice, often staring into the distance, as if “he was talking about somebody else,” the doctor said.

But Barth specified that Magnotta was fully aware he had been arrested and was in a Berlin prison.

Experienced nurses had sympathy for Magnotta

A patient can fake psychotic symptoms, Barth said, and several detainees had done so to gain access to the psychiatric ward where he works, which he described as a “five-star hotel” compared with other prisons.

But the psychiatrist testified it’s hard to maintain the lie over a long period of time, adding that experienced nurses at the hospital who were adept at spotting a fake felt real sympathy for Magnotta.

Barth said jumping between topics to avoid talking about psychotic symptoms is a technique patients suffering from schizophrenia often use.

Those who are faking symptoms, he said, tend to ramble on with details.

Magnotta was referred to Barth’s psychiatric ward in part because of the extensive media coverage surrounding his June 4, 2012, arrest. He was also sent there because there was a history of schizophrenia noted in the arrest warrant, Barth said.

The doctor who first examined Magnotta in the remand prison ordered an urgent psychiatric assessment.

Barth told the court Magnotta was considered a VIP patient, and because of the media frenzy around his arrest, he received fan mail.

One fan even sent socks and asked Magnotta to wear them and send them back.

Barth said the accused was distressed and scared by the letters, and asked nurses to keep them from him.

Antipsychotic meds

While at the psychiatric hospital, Magnotta met with Barth in the latter’s office, but the doctor never asked Magnotta about the charges against him.

The patient offered the information that he had been hospitalized twice, in both Toronto and Miami.

Barth said he asked Magnotta why he was treated in hospital.

“He said schizophrenia,” Barth told the court, adding that he requested the medical files from those institutions but never heard back.

The psychiatrist testified the doctors working on the ward had the impression they were dealing with a psychotic patient and put Magnotta on antipsychotic medication.

Drug use and family problems

In their meetings, Barth asked about sexual orientation, and Magnotta replied that he felt he may be homosexual or bisexual and he sometimes felt like a woman inside.

Magnotta reported having numerous sexual relationships, and said he had sex with his stepmother when he was 16.

“At first, it was fun, but then I didn’t want to. I don’t want to speak about it. I want to forget,” he told the psychiatrist, before changing the topic abruptly.

Magnotta told the doctor he hated his alcoholic mother and that his stepfather beat him, but he wanted to see his grandmother, whom he hadn’t seen for two years.

A social worker helped Magnotta place a call to his grandmother, who hung up the phone, leaving the accused disappointed, Barth testified.

Magnotta said he didn’t drink much alcohol, since he was introduced to it by his grandfather when he was 10 and didn’t like it.

The doctor also asked about drug use, and Magnotta replied that Manny had given him marijuana a few months prior but it made him feel sick.

Magnotta also reported that Manny was trying to spike his drinks with cocaine.

Barth told the court patients suffering from schizophrenia often try to reduce the symptoms with alcohol, marijuana and other sedative drugs, but rarely with cocaine, which accelerates life.

Magnotta has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, including first-degree murder, but his lawyer is arguing his client should be found not criminally responsible because of mental illness.

He has admitted to committing the physical acts behind the charges.

The Crown alleges the killing of 33-year-old Jun Lin was premeditated.

The trial resumes Wednesday with more of the prosecution’s cross-examination of Dr. Barth.