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Gruesome Killing Stirs New Debate on Media

Canada: Teenage defendant was fond of horror films, his mother says. Victim was 7 years old.

June 21, 1996|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA — The trial of a 14-year-old boy who killed a 7-year-old acquaintance and then boiled his flesh in what his lawyer said was an imitation of the movie "Warlock" has renewed the debate in Canada over links between violence on screen and in real life.

Sandy Charles, described as a good student, a punctual paperboy and a frequent baby sitter for younger siblings, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity at a nonjury trial in Saskatchewan province, where the slaying took place.

Prosecutors successfully sought to have him tried as an adult; if convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison, with eligibility for parole in five to seven years.

The teenager has admitted luring Johnathan Thimpsen into some bushes on the pretext of a ball game and then stabbing, bludgeoning and suffocating the child. Police say another 7-year-old was Charles' accomplice in the killing, but he has not been charged or publicly identified because of his age.

The crime took place in July in La Ronge, a lakeside community in northern Saskatchewan. The trial is in Saskatoon.

The defendant's mother, Jean Charles, testified that the youth had become withdrawn in the period prior to the crime, began asking questions about the Bible and ritual and became enamored of horror and fantasy films.

"Warlock," a 1989 release about Satanism and witchcraft produced and directed by Steve Miner and written by David Twohy, was an apparent favorite. He viewed the movie about 10 times, his mother said.

Charles' lawyer told the court that the killing may have been inspired by a character in the film who drinks the liquefied fat of a child to gain special powers. The youth told authorities that he did not carry through with that part of the ritual, because "I just wanted to stay the way I am."

The ghastly crime in Canada's rural midlands has reinforced concerns here about violence in movies, videos and television programs produced in Hollywood.

Canada's leading newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, quoted experts Thursday as cautioning parents "against drawing general conclusions from a specific crime" but also warning that "a violent movie could be a precipitating event" for an already troubled child.

Canadians generally are less tolerant than Americans of film violence and more convinced that it can lead to antisocial behavior.

About 1.5 million people signed a petition in the early 1990s calling for an end to violence on television. The petition was circulated by a Montreal teenager whose younger sister had been murdered, although there was no evidence or suggestion that her killing was linked to television or the movies.

The petition campaign, however, influenced the eventual decision by the government body that regulates cable television to require cable companies to provide subscribers with the so-called V-chip, a device that allows parents to black out violent programs.

The V-chip is supposed to become widely available in Canada by September, four months before introduction of a similar program in the United States.

Canada's provinces also give code ratings to motion pictures similar to the system used in the U.S., but violent films often receive more restrictive ratings here than they do in the United States.

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