Lawyer who heard Magnotta allege abuse could be defence witness
Luka Rocco Magnotta is taken by police from a Canadian military plane to a waiting van in Mirabel, Que., on Monday, June 18, 2012.
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 16, 2012 3:11PM EDT
MONTREAL -- A lawyer who heard Luka Rocco Magnotta make allegations about being repeatedly abused and forced to have sex with animals says he could be called as a witness at his murder trial.
Romeo Salta, who says he met with Magnotta several times at his Manhattan office in the winter of 2010-11, told The Canadian Press he was informed of the possibility by the defence team last week.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT MAY DISTURB SOME READERS.
Magnotta, 29, is now facing multiple charges, including first-degree murder, in the May slaying and dismemberment of Montreal university student Jun Lin. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts and is due back in court next March.
A day before Salta was told he might be called to testify, the attorney spoke to a reporter about Magnotta's assertions that he was frequently abused -- physically, emotionally and sexually -- by a mysterious acquaintance known as "Manny."
Salta insisted that Magnotta gave him his blessing to go public with the disturbing details of the alleged attacks, if he were ever arrested or killed. The lawyer said Magnotta wanted people to know his side of the story.
But two days after discussing his exchanges with Magnotta, Salta indicated he's been told to say no more.
He declined to answer follow-up questions because of a conversation he said he had with Magnotta's lead defence counsel, Luc Leclair.
"Consequently, I have been advised not to disseminate any further information than what has already been said, especially when it comes to 'Manny,' " Salta wrote in an email.
Leclair did not immediately return a message asking about Manny and whether Salta could be a witness.
Salta recalled that a frightened Magnotta first contacted him in December 2010 or early January 2011 over concerns police were closing in on him amid a swirl of animal-cruelty accusations.
At the time, animal-rights activists were already publicly accusing Magnotta of killing kittens in videos posted on the Internet -- allegations he denied in a newspaper interview.
The Canadian Press obtained several emails Salta said he received from Magnotta over the weeks that followed their first meeting. All are dated from January 2011, more than a year before Lin's death.
In one email, Magnotta said Manny forced him "to have sex with his puppy and numerous cats."
But Salta said he didn't remember if Magnotta told him whether he had ever killed kittens.
"I believe he denied intentionally harming any animal," said Salta, who also met Magnotta in person three or four times.
"He just kept saying, 'I like animals, I like animals, I like animals -- I wouldn't intentionally do anything to hurt an animal.'
"I guess, if anything, he was implying -- possibly, I don't know -- that he was forced to do it."
But when it came to accusations against Manny, Salta says Magnotta was categorical.
In one email dated Jan. 6, 2011, Magnotta listed 42 abuses allegedly administered by Manny -- many in graphic detail. He said he was subjected to bondage and torture.
The porn actor originally from Scarborough, Ont., wrote that Manny "cut me with a knife because I wouldn't kiss his feet" and made him "eat animal parts."
He also alleged in the same email that Manny threatened to have private detectives hunt him down and kill him if he ever disappeared.
Salta did not provide much information about Manny, except that he believed he was giving money to Magnotta, who apparently lived in New York City at the time.
The lawyer wasn't even convinced that Manny existed, though he said he had the feeling Magnotta truly believed the abuses had occurred.
"Whether or not they actually happened is another story," he said, noting how at one point Magnotta had discolouration near one eye that he blamed on Manny.
Magnotta also sent Salta a photo that purportedly shows marks and bruises on his face.
Salta, who has 30 years experience, said Magnotta turned down his offers to help him file a complaint against Manny.
Magnotta wrote in another email that he was considering turning himself in after the animal-cruelty allegations surfaced on the Internet.
He wrote how he would want "protective custody" if he were ever sent to a detention facility, such as New York City's Rikers Island. He even provided Salta with his mother's phone number, just in case he was arrested.
Police did not have any arrest warrants at the time for Magnotta. There have been no reports of him being charged with animal abuse. The Toronto police force, however, has confirmed it began investigating Magnotta in February 2011 after it received animal-cruelty complaints.
Salta said Magnotta asked him to go public with his accusations against Manny if something ever happened to him.
"He wanted the story of his abuse made known if it's at all relevant to anybody," said Salta, who described Magnotta as very friendly but someone who showed little emotion.
"He told me that he wanted the authorities, he wanted people, to see what he suffered."
Asked if he thought Magnotta could come back at him for revealing confidential client information, Salta said he never technically represented him.
"If he does, he does," he said, before highlighting Magnotta's prolific presence on the Internet.
"It seems like he's posted enough things that would indicate that he's waiving any kind of confidentiality."
Salta said he even returned $300 given to him by Magnotta at their first meeting because he hadn't done any official work for him.
The criminal lawyer, however, wanted to stay in touch with Magnotta based on the possibility of landing a new, high-profile client.
"I wasn't doing it just for the sake of listening to somebody tell tales," Salta said.
"In this particular situation, he showed me enough stuff that would possibly make one conclude that there may be an animal-abuse charge coming down the road, in which case he would need a lawyer."