Demon Murder Trial

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Demon Murder Trial
Court Connecticut Superior Court
Decided November 24, 1981

The Demon Murder Trial is the first known court case in the United States in which the defense sought to prove innocence based upon the defendant 's claim of demonic possession and denial of personal responsibility for the crime.[1][2] On November 24, 1981, in Brookfield, Connecticut, Arnie Cheyenne Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for the killing of his landlord, Alan Bono.[3] The Glatzel family home (where Johnson also resided) was plagued by a number of strange and allegedly unexplainable events throughout the year, ending in Bono's murder. According to testimony by the Glatzel family, 11-year-old David Glatzel had allegedly played host to the demon that forced Johnson to kill Bono. After witnessing a number of increasingly ominous occurrences involving David, the family, exhausted and terrified, decided to enlist the aid of self-described demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (noted for their investigation into the famed Amityville Haunting) in a last-ditch effort to "cure" David. The Glatzel family, along with the Warrens, then proceeded to have David exorcised by a number of Catholic priests. The process dragged on for several excruciating days and only concluded when a demon fled the child's body, allegedly taking up residence within Johnson instead. Several months later, Johnson killed his landlord during a heated conversation. His defense lawyer argued in court that he was possessed, but the judge ruled that such a defense could never be proven and was therefore infeasible in a court of law. Johnson was subsequently convicted, though he only served five years of a 10- to 20-year sentence. The trial attracted media attention from around the world and has obtained a level of notoriety due to numerous depictions of the events in literature and television.

Version from Discovery Channel's A Haunting[edit]

Arnie Johnson and Debbie Glatzel provided firsthand accounts for the version of events depicted in Discovery Channel's A Haunting. During the interview, they claimed to be eyewitnesses to demonic possession, and both were adamant in their support of the Warrens' recollection of events. They assert that paranormal activity began after they went to clean up a rental property they had just acquired, shortly after David was asked to sweep the master bedroom. David recollects that an old man in a plaid shirt and jeans appeared while he was sweeping, pushing and terrifying him. The couple initially thought he was simply using the old man as an excuse to avoid cleaning and disregarded his fear. However, when Johnson and Debbie arrived back at her mother's home, David informed them that the old man had threatened both of them, vowing to harm the Glatzels if they continued their move into the rental home. David was continually plagued by visions of the old man, who also took the form of a demonic beast, muttered Latin, and threatened to steal his soul. Although the family allegedly heard strange noises emanating from the attic, no one but David ever witnessed the old man. As his visions grew more prominent, so too did David's night terrors, strange behavior, and unexplained scratches and bruises. The family, extremely unnerved at this point, opted to call upon the services of a Catholic priest, who attempted to bless the house. The blessing had absolutely no effect, David's visions would not relent, and deep gashes began to appear on the front door. After witnessing these increasingly macabre phenomena, the terrified family concluded that the house was evil and would no longer continue to rent it.

Ridding themselves of the rental home did little to dissuade David's demons. His visions worsened, now occurring in the daytime as well.[1] Twelve days after the original incident, the increasingly desperate family summoned the renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren to assist. The Glatzels were informed of the Warrens' rather unique skill-set by their priest, who felt that David's affliction was demonic in nature but was unable to perform an exorcism due to poor health.[4] Lorraine, a self-proclaimed clairvoyant, allegedly witnessed a black mist materialize next to David, an apparent indication of a malevolent presence. Debbie and her mother told the Warrens they had seen David being beaten and choked by invisible hands and that awful red marks had appeared on his neck afterwards.[1] David had most recently also started to growl, hiss, speak in otherworldly voices, and randomly recite passages from the Bible or Paradise Lost. The Glatzels recounted how each night a family member would remain awake with David as he suffered through spasms and convulsions.[1] After receiving a prognosis of multiple possessions from the Warrens, David was subsequently subjected to three "lesser exorcisms".[1] Lorraine asserts that David levitated, ceased breathing for a time, and even demonstrated the supernatural ability of precognition, specifically in relation to the murder Johnson would later commit.[5] In October 1980, the Warrens contacted Brookfield police to warn them that the situation was becoming dangerous.[4]

According to eyewitness testimony, Johnson coerced one of the demons purportedly within David to possess him while participating in David's exorcisms.[1][2] It is here that A Haunting veers away from the circumstances of Johnson's possession as described by those involved. According to the show, a few days after Johnson egged the demon on during the exorcism, he was attacked rather viciously by the demon, which allegedly took control of his car and forced it into a tree; fortunately, Johnson was unharmed. After this incident, Johnson returned to the rental property to examine an old well that supposedly housed the demon. In both the dramatized version and his personal account, Johnson recollects that this was his final encounter with the demon while completely lucid, as it was after encountering the demon at the well and making eye contact with it that he became truly possessed. The Warrens claim to have warned him not to do this (although their warning was not mentioned in A Haunting).[4] As David's condition continued to decline, Debbie and Johnson decided it was time to move out of her mother's home. Debbie was hired by Alan Bono, a new resident in Brookfield, as a dog groomer. Debbie and Johnson began renting an apartment close to her place of employment. After moving in, Johnson started to exhibit odd behavior that was strikingly similar to David's, causing Debbie to fear that he had become possessed as well. According to Debbie, Johnson would fall into a trance-like state, wherein he would growl and hallucinate but later have no memory of it.[1]

The murder[edit]

On February 16, 1981, Johnson called in sick to his job at Wright Tree Service[4] and joined Debbie at her place of employment, along with his sister Wanda and Debbie's 9-year-old cousin Mary. Bono, the couple's landlord and Debbie's employer at the kennel, bought the group lunch at a local bar and proceeded to drink heavily.[4] After lunch, the group returned to the kennels.[4] Debbie then took the girls to get pizza but insisted they return quickly, anticipating trouble. When they returned, Bono, intoxicated at this point, became agitated.[4] Everyone left the room at Debbie's urging, except Bono, who seized Mary and refused to let go.[4] Johnson headed back to the apartment and ordered Bono to release Mary.[4] Wanda recounted the following events to the police.[4] Mary ran for the car as Debbie attempted to mitigate the situation by standing between the two men.[4] Wanda tried in vain to pull Johnson away. Johnson, growling like an animal, then drew a 5-inch (130 mm) pocket knife and stabbed Bono repeatedly and unmercifully.[4] Bono died several hours later. According to Johnson's lawyer, Bono had suffered "four or five tremendous wounds", mostly on his chest, and one that stretched from his stomach to the base of his heart.[6] Johnson was discovered two miles (3 km) from the site of the murder and was held at the Bridgeport Correctional Center on bail of 125,000 USD.[1] This was the first murder in the history of Brookfield, Connecticut.[1]

Media reaction and legal proceedings[edit]

The day after the murder, Lorraine Warren informed the Brookfield Police that Johnson was possessed when the crime was committed.[4] A "media blitz" soon surrounded the story, fueled in part by the Warrens, whose agents promised that lectures, a book, and even a movie detailing the gruesome case were in the works.[4] Martin Minnella, Johnson's lawyer, received calls from all over the world about the Demon Murder Trial. Minnella traveled to England to meet with lawyers who had been involved in two similar cases (though neither ever went to trial). He planned to fly in exorcism specialists from Europe and threatened to subpoena the priests who oversaw David Glatzel's exorcisms if they did not cooperate with the defense.[1][4]

The trial took place in Danbury, Connecticut's Superior Court, beginning on October 28, 1981.[1][7] Minnella attempted to undertake the trial with a plea of not guilty by virtue of possession, but the presiding judge, Robert Callahan, promptly rejected this defense. Callahan argued that no such defense could ever exist in a court of law due to lack of evidence and that it would be "irrelative and unscientific" to allow related testimony. This forced the defense to instead imply that Johnson acted in self-defense.[1][3][8] Because of this, the jury was not legally allowed to consider demonic possession as a viable explanation for the murder.[9] The jury deliberated for 15 hours over three days before convicting Johnson on November 24, 1981 of first-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison, though he only served five.[3][8][9]


The incident led to the creation of a made for TV movie called The Demon Murder Case on NBC and a major motion picture, the production of which has been stalled due to internal conflicts.[2][5] In 1983, Gerald Brittle, with the assistance of Lorraine Warren, published a book about the incident entitled The Devil in Connecticut. Lorraine Warren has stated that profits from the book were shared with the family.[5][10] Sources confirm that two-thousand dollars was paid to the family by the book publisher.[5] Upon the book's republication in 2006 by iUniverse Inc., brothers Carl Glatzel Jr. and David Glatzel sued the authors and book publishers for violating their right to privacy, libel, and "intentional affliction of emotional distress." Carl also claims the book alleges he committed criminal and abusive acts against his family and others.[8][9] He believes that the possession story was a hoax concocted by Ed and Lorraine Warren to exploit the family and his brother's mental illness, and that the book presents him as the villain because he did not believe in the supernatural claims.[2] He asserts that the Warrens told him the story would make the family millionaires and would help get Johnson out of jail.[8] According to Glatzel Jr., the publicity generated by the incident forced him to drop out of school and lose friends and business opportunities.[2] He is currently writing a book, titled Alone Through The Valley, about his version of the events surrounding his brother.[8] Lorraine Warren defends her work with the family. She presents as evidence the fact that that the six priests who were involved in the incident agreed at the time that the boy was possessed and that the supernatural events she described were real.[2] Gerald Brittle, author of The Devil in Connecticut, says he only wrote the book because "the family wanted the story told," that he possesses video of over 100 hours of his interviews with the family, and that they signed off on the book as accurate before it went to print.[2] Glatzel's father, Carl Glatzel Sr., denies telling the author that his son was possessed.[5] Johnson and Debbie (now married) wholeheartedly support the Warrens' account of demonic possession and are under the impression that the Glatzels in question are suing simply for monetary purposes.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lynne Baranski (1981-10-26). "In a Connecticut Murder Trial, Will (demonic) Possession Prove Nine-Tenths of the Law?". People Magazine. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g John Piro (2007-10-10). "Brookfield man sues over ‘demon’ book". The News-Times. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c "THE REGION; Man Is Convicted In Friend's Death". New York Times. 1981-11-25. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Lynn Darling (1981-09-13). By Demons Possessed. Washington Post. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f John Christoffersen (2007-10-10). Suit vs. psychic says demon murder was hoax. Record-Journal. 
  6. ^ Bean, Phillip (2003). Crime. Taylor & Francis. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-415-25268-3. 
  7. ^ Scott Benjamin (2007-10-12). "'Devil' book reissuance leads to suit". Brookfield Journal. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Alex Murphy (2007-10-08). "Brothers sue world famous psychic Lorraine Warren for false accusations in Devil book". Mass Media Distribution Newswire. Archived from the original on August 29, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  9. ^ a b c Melissa Pionzio (2007-10-14). "Factual Exorcism Book Evokes Past Pain". The Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 17, 2008. 
  10. ^ Brittle, Gerald (1983). The Devil in Connecticut. Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553237146.