MONTREAL (Reuters) - A retired U.S. naval officer who hired an accused Canadian killer as a C$150-an-hour male escort during trips to Montreal recalled him on Tuesday as a "plain simple kid" who brought his puppy along to one of their meetings.
Luka Magnotta, 32, has admitted to killing and dismembering Chinese student Jun Lin, videotaping the acts and mailing parts of the body to elementary schools and to two political parties in 2012. He is pleading not guilty due to mental illness.
"For me, he was a clean-cut kid," said Thomas Murphy, 69, who hired Magnotta three times during frequent trips to the city. "He really wasn’t into drinking. We never finished a bottle of wine - that kind of struck me."
Murphy told a Quebec court he did not recognize Magnotta, who is now heavier, wears glasses and has darker hair than the lean young man he first met in March 2012.
The retired naval officer said he invited Magnotta to his apartment in Montreal’s trendy Plateau district after finding his profile "Nathan22" on a male escort site.
"He was a plain simple young kid. He was trying to make a few bucks," Murphy said. "He was a real friendly guy. I had no reason to suspect any of this."
The government says Magnotta planned the killing for six months before the May 2012 crime, emailing a British journalist in 2011 saying he intended to kill a human being and videotape the act.
Last week, jurors were shown grainy footage taken from security cameras on May 24, 2012, showing Magnotta and Lin entering Magnotta's Montreal apartment building.
Over the next day, Magnotta is repeatedly seen entering and leaving the building, carrying and disposing of black garbage bags and a gray suitcase, his trips interrupted occasionally to fix his hair in the entrance mirror.
On Tuesday, Dong Dong Xu, a friend of Jun Lin, described his efforts to find the engineering student after he went missing. Xu said he searched Lin’s computer on May 29 at the request of Lin’s former boyfriend Feng Lin.
"I was in a total shock and we were worried about where Jun Lin was," Xu told the court under cross-examination by the defense. "I was under the instructions of his boyfriend to look for specific documents."
Xu said he later watched the video the prosecutor says Magnotta filmed of his acts and identified Lin from an image of his decapitated head.
A publication ban imposed by the court at a preliminary hearing has barred media from reporting certain details of the case. Explicit details were publicized during the international search to capture Magnotta, but cannot be repeated until they are presented at trial. The jury was not being sequestered.
The killing of Lin in the early summer of 2012 shocked Canadians and grabbed headlines around the world. Magnotta was the subject of an international manhunt. He was arrested in an Internet cafe in Berlin, where he was reading about himself.
Editing by Amran Abocar and Andre Grenon