Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson
|Devil Made Me Do It case|
|Court||Connecticut Superior Court|
|Decided||November 24, 1981|
The trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the "Devil Made Me Do It" case, 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. On November 24, 1981, in Brookfield, Connecticut, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for the killing of his landlord, Alan Bono.
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 multiple priests petition the Church to have a formal exorcism performed on David. The process continued for several days, concluding when, according to those present, a demon fled the child's body and took up residence within Johnson. 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. A film adaptation is currently in production and will be titled The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Version from Discovery Channel's A Haunting
Arne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel provided firsthand accounts for the version of events depicted in Discovery Channel's A Haunting, episode "Where Demons Dwell". 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 asserted that paranormal activity began after they went to clean up a rental property they had just acquired. David recollected that an old man appeared, pushing and terrifying him. The couple initially thought David was using the old man as an excuse to avoid cleaning, but David informed them that the old man had vowed to harm the Glatzels if they moved into the rental home. David's visions of the old man included the man appearing as a demonic beast who muttered Latin and threatened to steal his soul. Although the family allegedly heard strange noises coming from the attic, no one but David ever witnessed the old man. After David experienced night terrors, exhibited strange behavior, and obtained unexplained scratches and bruises, the family called upon the services of a Catholic priest, who attempted to bless the house. The terrified family concluded that the house was evil and would no longer continue to rent it.
David's visions worsened, occurring in the daytime as well. Twelve days after the original incident, the family summoned the self-proclaimed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren to assist. Lorraine 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 red marks had appeared on his neck afterwards. David had started to growl, hiss, speak in otherworldly voices, and 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. After receiving a prognosis of multiple possessions from the Warrens, David was subjected to three "lesser exorcisms". 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. In October 1980, the Warrens contacted Brookfield police to warn them that the situation was becoming dangerous.
According to eyewitness testimony, Arne Johnson coerced one of the demons purportedly within David to possess him while participating in David's exorcisms. 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 possessed. The Warrens claim to have warned him not to do this (although their warning was not mentioned in A Haunting). As David's condition continued to worsen, 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.
On February 16, 1981, Johnson called in sick to his job at Wright Tree Service and joined Debbie at the kennel where she worked, 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. After lunch, the group returned to the kennel. 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. Everyone left the room at Debbie's urging, except Bono, who seized Mary and refused to let go. Johnson headed back to the apartment and ordered Bono to release Mary. Wanda recounted the following events to the police. Mary ran for the car as Debbie attempted to mitigate the situation by standing between the two men. 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. Bono died several hours later. According to Johnson's lawyer, Bono had suffered "four or five tremendous wounds", mostly to his chest, and one that stretched from his stomach to the base of his heart. 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. This was the first murder in the history of Brookfield, Connecticut.
Media reaction and legal proceedings
The day after the murder, Lorraine Warren informed the Brookfield Police that Johnson was possessed when the crime was committed. 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. Martin Minnella, Johnson's lawyer, received calls from all over the world about what was being called the Demon Murder Trial. Minnella traveled to England to meet with lawyers who had been involved in two similar cases (though neither 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.
The trial took place in Connecticut's Superior Court in Danbury, beginning on October 28, 1981. Minnella attempted to submit 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. The defense chose to imply that Johnson acted in self-defense. Because of this, the jury was not legally allowed to consider demonic possession as a viable explanation for the murder. 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 served only five.
The incident led to the creation of a television film titled The Demon Murder Case on NBC and preparations for a feature film, the production of which was stalled due to internal conflicts. In 1983, Gerald Brittle, with the assistance of Lorraine Warren, published a book about the incident entitled The Devil in Connecticut. Lorraine Warren stated that profits from the book were shared with the family. Sources confirmed that $2,000 was paid to the family by the book publisher. Upon the book's republication in 2006 by iUniverse, David Glatzel and his brother, Carl Glatzel Jr., sued the authors and book publishers for violating their right to privacy, libel, and "intentional affliction of emotional distress." Carl also claimed that the book alleged he committed criminal and abusive acts against his family and others. He said 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 presented him as the villain because he did not believe in the supernatural claims. He asserted that the Warrens told him the story would make the family millionaires and would help get Johnson out of jail. According to Carl Glatzel, the publicity generated by the incident forced him to drop out of school and lose friends and business opportunities. In 2007 he began writing a book, titled Alone Through the Valley, about his version of the events surrounding his brother. Lorraine Warren defended her work with the family, saying 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. Brittle, author of The Devil in Connecticut, says he 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. Glatzel's father, Carl Glatzel Sr., denies telling the author that his son was possessed. Johnson and Debbie (now married) wholeheartedly support the Warrens' account of demonic possession and have stated that the Glatzels in question are suing simply for monetary purposes. The event inspired the premise of the 2021 film The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
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