By Pratham Kaushik
The author is a first-year law student at Symbiosis Law School Noida.
The title of this article is not any made-up catchy heading, these are the actual words that were used by Arne Cheyenne Johnson in his defense. His lawyers sought to prove him innocent by pleading “demonic possession”. This was the very first case in The United States of America and particularly shocking for a small town like Brookfield in Connecticut.
BACKSTORY OF THE CASE
The whole case starts with the brother of Arne’s fiancée Debbie Glatzel being supposedly possessed by demonic forces. It was reported by Debbie and Arne that Debbie’s brother, David started to act in an unnatural manner and displayed powers like supernatural levitation, speaking in voices that Arne and Debbie were never acquainted with. David said that he had visions of a horrific figure with horns, hoofs which may resemble like a demon. It was also noticed that David had also acquired the power of Precognition, that is, having the power to pre determine a future event. David had spoken about murder and brutal stabbings, which Arne eventually ended up doing. It was later witnessed David also started to speak of the Bible and the book Paradise lost which talks about the fallen angel, Satan and the creation of man with the legend of Adam and Eve. David would spit and swear at people of the house.
An exorcism was performed on David where Arne and Debbie were present too. Arne, in a haste supposedly taunted the devil and told him to leave David and get inside him. After the exorcism, everything was back to normal for a few days and David was not having terrifying visions of the man with the horns anymore.
Thereafter, a drastic change in behavior was noticed in Arne and it was said that he used to growl like a wild animal and claimed that he saw the beast, much like David did in the past.
THE DAY OF THE MURDER
Debbie Glatzel had been working with Alan Bono at his Pet kennel and Alan had taken his sister Wanda, Debbie and her nine-year-old cousin Mary for a lunch where Alan got drunk more than he could have handled. Also, Arne called in sick to his job and came back to the kennel. Debbie was anticipating a tense situation because Alan was very drunk and came back shortly when she left to get pizza with the girls. An angry and bugged Alan caught hold of Mary and did not let go. Arne saw all of this and again came to a trance like position and started to growl like an animal. Before Wanda or Debbie could have diffused the tensed situation, Arne had brutally stabbed Alan Bono, killing him on the spot.
THE DAY OF THE MURDER
The judge completely denied to accept any theory regarding “demonic possession” as a defense in such a heinous crime and the jury gave Arne a 10–20-year sentence in prison. Arne came out of jail in only 5 years on the grounds of good behavior.
THE DAY OF THE MURDER
Insanity is actually a ground of defense in the eyes of law. It is on the part of the accused to prove he was not able to understand or there was a so called “defect in reason”. It has to be proved the accused was not aware of his actions or the nature and the quality of the actions he was committing. It can be related to mental diseases which do carry hallucinations with them like schizophrenia. A person may or may not hear certain voices if he suffers from schizophrenia. There was a case (I don’t remember the name exactly) where the person had a tumor in his brain which was weighing down one of his nerves which was there to regulate feeling of anger and despair. He did not know why was he angry all the time and even told psychologists that he felt like killing everybody. He was given medications which did not work on him and was still angry almost every time. What he did was he got absolutely frustrated one day and shot a huge bunch of people. The autopsy later stated that he had a tumor in his brain.
There is a defence called “deific defence” where a person commits a crime on the command of God. In my personal opinion this can be related to the Arne Johnson case as even the devil is actually a supernatural power and allegedly, it took control over Arne’s body. Arne stated that he saw the beast with a rounded back, hairy and a wide horned individual and would come into a trance like stated and would growl. David spoke in languages and quoted holy scriptures he never even read. It was also believed that David was possessed by 42 demons until they were taunted by Arne and possessed him.
This case is very old but still, as far as I have read there is no such proof that Arne was checked for any mental disease. The mental aspect of the human body is as much important as the physical aspect. Such was the case highlighted in the infamous Burari Deaths case where one member of the family used to hear his dead father’s voices and as a result performed occult practices and the whole family came into a state of shared psychosis. One of those routine occult practices unfortunately killed them, their hands tied together, with blindfolds.
Rather than straightforwardly claiming demonic possession, the defense could have been routed through various forms of insanity which the law covers. Some of them are-
- M’Naghten defense (discussed in the legal aspect section, 2nd paragraph)
- Irresistible impulse defense (not able to control conduct, not knowing the nature of conduct)
- Substantial capacity defence (lack of ability to appreciate the conduct, little similar to irresistible impulse)
Mental health has always been neglected and that is evident until now, the case we have talked about dates back to the year 1981 and even in 2021 a lot of people feel shy talking about their mental state. In my opinion, demonic possession seems way over the top as a defense in the court of law. criminal insanity should have been the way out, whether Arne was actually possessed or not can never be a hundred percent proved but there are ways where the trajectory and behavior patterns of the brain could have been read. I have seen people in my own family suffering from schizophrenia and though I cannot name the person, she believes on of her near and dear who is no more is still alive and I have seen her asking about the dead person every now and then as she believes he is just hiding and sometimes even says the dead person is standing near her.
 www.radiotimes.com, what they didn’t know about Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s court case, available at: https://www.radiotimes.com/movies/the-conjuring-3-true-story-arne-johnson-case-real/ last accessed: 22nd November, 2021.
 www.mirror.co.uk, true story behind The Conjuring 3- inside The Devil Made Me Do It case, available at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/film/true-story-behind-conjuring-3-14156683 last accessed: 22nd November, 2021.