Trial begins for amateur filmmaker accused of murder
A murder victim was lured into an Edmonton garage, killed and dismembered in a plot resembling a movie script written by the accused, a Crown prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
"Mark Twitchell's plan was quite simply and shockingly to gain the experience of killing another human being," prosecutor Lawrence Van Dyke told jurors in his opening address before a packed gallery in Court of Queen's Bench.
Van Dyke said the case blurs the line between fact and fiction, charging that Twitchell worked in the fantasy world of film, killed in the real world and then wrote a story that he alleged was tantamount to a confession.
"This story is based on true events," reads the opening portion of a 30-page document Van Dyke said was found on Twitchell's laptop after he was arrested in 2008 for the murder of Johnny Altinger, 38.
"The names and events were altered slightly to protect the guilty. This is the story of my progression into becoming a serial killer.
"I had a lot of trial and error in my misadventures. Allow me to start from the beginning and I think you'll see what I mean."
The lurid details of the case have attracted the attention of at least two American networks, who are following the trial.
The Crown lawyer said he will be submitting the diary as an exhibit, saying the story closely matches evidence of Altinger's murder on the evening of Oct. 10, 2008, and what almost happened to another man a week earlier.
In a half-hour address, Van Dyke said Twitchell, a fringe amateur filmmaker, made a short film with some friends in a garage he had rented behind a home on Edmonton's south side.
The movie, titled "House of Cards," revolved around a killer who lures a man to a garage on the premise of an Internet date and kills him.
A week later, said Van Dyke, Twitchell crossed from fantasy into reality.
He said jurors will hear that Altinger, a pipeline inspector originally from White Rock, B.C., was lured to that same garage for an Internet date with someone named Jen.
Instead, said Van Dyke, Altinger was ambushed by Twitchell.
"He (Twitchell) killed Johnny Altinger by bludgeoning him over the head with a copper pipe," he said. "He then stabbed him to death with a hunting knife, then dismembered the body and dumped the remains down a sewer.
"You will hear very graphic details," he cautioned the jury.
The same fate almost befell another man a week earlier, Van Dyke said.
That man, too, came to the garage for a date and was jumped by a male wearing a hockey mask and wielding a fake gun. The man managed to escape, but didn't come forward until after he heard about Altinger's death.
The 31-year-old Twitchell, who has pleaded not guilty, sat beside his defence lawyer as the Crown laid out its case.
Earlier Wednesday, Twitchell had offered to admit to interfering with a dead body, but the Crown refused to accept the plea bargain and the trial continued.
Prosecutors plan to call at least 50 witnesses, including the man they say was lured to the garage the week before Altinger was killed, but who escaped.
Detectives focused on Twitchell after Altinger's friends became suspicious when they received emails with his name saying he was quitting his job and running off to Costa Rica. They said that was out of character.
Police went to the garage where Altinger had told friends he was meeting a woman he met on the Internet and talked to Twitchell, who said he didn't know anything about Altinger, but then confessed he had possession of Altinger's car. He said he had recently bought the Mazda for $40 off a stranger.
Police searched the garage, Twitchell's home and his parents' home and found overwhelming physical evidence, Van Dyke said.
They found Altinger's blood on the walls and on a table in the garage, on a bloody copper pipe, in the trunk of Twitchell's car, on a steak knife and hunting knife in his possession, on tools used to carve up big game and on clothes in his house.
Van Dyke said police found one of Altinger's teeth. The lawyer also told jurors that Twitchell first tried to burn the remains in a steel barrel at his parents' place, then settled for dumping them down a sewer two blocks away.
Van Dyke said Twitchell later directed police to Altinger's remains. The bones that remain, Van Dyke said, "show signs of cutting, breaking, sawing and sectioning."