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Fiction met 'gruesome' reality for murder suspect, Alberta court hears

An undated handout photograph of Edmonton filmmaker Mark Twitchell, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Johnny Altinger.

The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

A brutal slaying and dismemberment of an Edmonton man three years ago directly mirrors both a diary and a film script written by a man accused in the slaying, a jury heard Monday.

But although the death of Johnny Brian Altinger mirrored would-be fiction, it was "gruesome and horrific" when carried out in reality - clubbed over the head with a copper pipe, cut up with a knife meant for carving large animals, burned in a barrel and then dumped, piece by piece, in an Edmonton storm drain - Crown Prosecutor Lawrence Van Dyke said in opening remarks Wednesday.

The remarks began an estimated six-week first-degree murder trial for Mark Twitchell, an amateur filmmaker for whom the Crown alleges reality and fiction were one and the same.

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"[The accused's]plan was, quite simply and shockingly, to gain the experience of killing another human being," Mr. Van Dyke said.

The case dates back to Oct. 10, 2008, when Mr. Altinger arrived at a garage rented by Mr. Twitchell under the assumption he was meeting a woman for a date set up online, the jury heard.

But when he walked into the garage, "Mark Twitchell's murderous trap was sprung," Mr. Van Dyke said.

Mr. Twitchell clubbed Mr. Altinger over the head with a copper pipe, which he'd wrapped with hockey tape on one end for better grip, the Jury heard.

He then cut him up and burned him, before accessing Mr. Altinger's email to tell his friends that he'd gone on a vacation to the Caribbean.

The jury heard of a similar attack, made a week earlier, in which a victim escaped.

The Crown also said that the events of both attacks are detailed in a ghost file dug out, by police, from Mr. Twitchell's computer, entitled SKconfessions.

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"The document is essentially a diary," Mr. Van Dyke said. It contained detailed accounts with names changed only slightly - the author said his wife was named Tess and daughter was Zoe (Mr. Twitchell's wife was named Jess, his daughter Chloe), Mr. Van Dyke said.

"I expect you'll easily be able to conclude that Mark Twitchell authored that document," the lawyer said.

A script for a film, shot two weeks before the alleged date of death in the same garage, also mirrors the events very closely, the jury heard.

Mr. Van Dyke outlined a host of forensic evidence against the accused. The victim's blood was splattered on the garage's wall, a table, the copper pipe, the carving kit, a tooth, a knife, a duffel bag and another knife found in Mr. Twitchell's car, jeans found in his home and a glove found at his parents home.

Even when Mr. Twitchell was arrested nearly two weeks later, one shoe and his belt had traces of the victim's blood, the jury heard.

And 20 months after the arrest, police - acting on information from the accused - found skeletal remains in a sewer two blocks from Mr. Twitchell's parents' home. The bones had signs of "cutting, breaking, sawing and sectioning" and amount to the "intentional execution of Johnny Altinger," Mr. Van Dyke said.

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The Crown will call up to 72 witnesses during the trial.

At the beginning, Mr. Twitchell pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder but tried to enter a guilty plea on interfering with a dead body. The Crown didn't accept it, so the judge told the jury to proceed with the first-degree murder charge.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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