I'm not proud of it, but I have the been following the trial of accused murderer Mark Andrew Twitchell pretty closely. The Edmonton Journal has had pretty good coverage, and their Ben Gelinas has been maintaining a vairly comprehensive live blog from the court building.
As to why I am bothering to keep up with the proceedings, I have a hard time articulating it. I can assure you it is not out of any kind of prurient interest, or fascination with either serial killers (or would-be serial killers) or police procedurals. It is not because of any desire to learn any particularly graphic details of how the murder was accomplished or how the body was disposed of, most of which have mercifully been omitted from the evidence viewable at the blog. It's not even because I want to have the facts straight before the network news programs begin packaging the whole sordid tale for mass consumption.
The closest I can come up with is that I hunger for justice, and more than even justice, I have an almost palpable desire to see Twitchell's arrogance punished.
Even a cursory examination of the facts showcases the appeal this case must have to the producers of Dateline NBC or a potential TV-movie: Edmonton man Johnny Altinger goes missing in October 2008, and his friends receive an e-mail explaining how he has met an amazing woman who has taken him to the tropics on vacation. When his friends listen to their instincts and break in to his place, they find Altinger's toothbrush and passport, and notify the police.
The police look up Altinger's online dating profile, and find the correspondence inviting him to meet a woman for a sexual encounter at a south side garage. Forensic evidence is found at the garage, including bloodstains revealed by luminol. They question Twitchell, the person renting the garage, who explains he has been using the garage as a workspace and set for some independent films he is making. When asked why he is in possession of the victim's Mazda, Twitchell claims to have bought it off a stranger in a parking lot who told him a rich 'sugar mama' was taking him on vacation and buying him a new car upon their return, and sold the vehicle to him for $40.
Despite having a suspect and evidence of foul play, the police are unable to turn up Altinger's body, but arrest Twitchell on Hallowe'en. In his car, they find a knife, a book featuring fictional serial killer Dexter Morgan, and more bloodstains, both on the knife and in the car itself. They also come across a laptop, and on the laptop, a deleted file entitled "SKConfessions".
In SKConfessions, the writer, agreed to be Mark Twitchell, describes himself as an independent filmmaker fascinated by the idea of killing someone. The narrator shares a number of attributes with Twitchell: they are both fans of Dexter, they both make prize-winning costumes for Halloween parties, they both have troubled marriages and they both share an afternoon of making out at the movies with an ex-girlfriend (who, in addition to having a name only letter apart from being the same as Twitchell's real-life ex-girlfriend, but also has a similar Celtic neck tattoo, designed by him). Clearly, there is a lot more at work here than just life imitating art, starting with SKConfession's opening line of "This story is based on true events. The names and events were altered slightly to protect the guilty."
One of the arresting officers was quoted as saying he has never seen a stronger case in terms of evidence in his entire career: fingerprints, bloodstains, the victim's car, and a written description of events that is almost indistinguishable from what actually befell Johnny Altinger.
Throughout the prosecution's case, Twitchell has come across as someone who considers himself smarter than just about everyone else around him, an arrogant pseudo-intellectual who seems exactly like the kind of person who would slay a stranger for the experience.
Twitchell took the stand in his own defense today, a maneuver that surprised me, and claimed that although he was responsible for the death of Johnny Altinger, he is not a would-be serial killer, but that the death was a tragic accident that came about as he used unconventional marketing in an attempt to create an 'urban legend' about a serial killer luring men to their deaths with the false promise of easy sex, all in order to create 'buzz' for his film project. Never mind that the narrator of SKConfessions shows no remorse, and that later discussions Twitchell has with his wife, girlfriend and online buddy give no indication of fear or apprehension, other than perhaps the fear of apprehension itself. I suppose when placed in relief against an actual murder, the idea of manipulating and terrifying a complete stranger and making them fear for their life in the name of marketing seems marginally less evil, but no more reasonable.
Tomorrow the prosecution gets to have a go at this individual, and I fully anticipate a lengthy list of all his lies, going back to when his girlfriend first dumped him for lying about his age and background, to the false profile he created to lure Altinger (and another individual who fought his way to safety before Altinger's death), the lies he told his wife about working a day job when he had actually quit to try to find financing for his film, how he told her he was at the gym when he was either cheating on her or plotting a murder, how he claimed to be writing an article about married men using online dating services to philander, and how he got an actor to pose as an editor when she phoned to corroborate his story. The way he lied to a friend to get them to move Altinger's car since he can't drive a standard, and the unbelievable yarn he spun about a big guy with a Celtic tattoo on his neck (what another one?) sold him that car for $40, and how he didn't bother to get a bill of sale.
I hope the Crown presents all that, and then says something along the lines of, "...and despite all of those lies and many others besides, you want this jury to believe that the death of Johnny Altinger was not a calculated, thoughtfully planned and pre-meditated murder,but rather, an unfortunate accident that left you no other choice than to use all the equipment you had conveniently assembled, including a real, that is to say, not a prop, game-processing kit, to dismember this unfortunate man, and stuff his mortal remains down a sewer, exactly as detailed in the document you admit writing entitled SKConfessions? Mr. Twitchell, you cannot possibly expect anyone to believe that, can you?"
The real question will probably be a lot less dramatic than that, since the prosecutor will have an actual background in law, and not just a haphazard approximation of it based on what transpires on most episodes of Law & Order, but I hope it gets asked, one way or another. I hope Twitchell's hubris and arrogance get called into full account, and I hope this selfish creature spends the remainder of his life locked into a 6 foot by 12 foot cell eating rotten food and wondering where it all went wrong for him.
I am not happy, or thrilled, or even mildly intrigued that Edmonton has its own sensational murder trial going on, but a part of everyone hungers for justice, and I am no exception.