Arne Johnson’s trial marked a landmark moment in the history of the United States as it was the first recorded court case where the defense argued for the defendant’s innocence by invoking the notion of demonic possession and absolving the defendant of personal responsibility for the crime. This historic trial was famously referred to as “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Its notoriety inspired the creation of a film adaptation, entitled “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”
Initially, the murder of Arne’s landlord, Bono, appeared to be a straightforward case for the police. However, after Arne’s arrest, he proclaimed that the Devil had compelled him to commit the crime. To support his claims, he enlisted the assistance of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Real Life story of Devil Made me Do it
On February 16, 1981, Arne Johnson committed a shocking murder when he repeatedly stabbed his landlord, Alan Bono, 22 times with a small pocket knife. This was a shocking event for the residents of Brookfield, as it was the first recorded murder in the town’s 193-year history. Prior to this, Arne had been a seemingly normal adolescent with no prior criminal record.
According to then-Police Chief John Anderson, the murder was not an unusual occurrence, but the complexity of the situation made it far from simple. “Someone became enraged and an argument ensued,” Anderson stated. “Instead of a straightforward murder, the world descended on Brookfield.”
On the morning of the murder, Arne had called in sick from his job at Wright Tree Service and joined his girlfriend Debbie at the kennel where she worked. In a quiet moment, Arne carried out the brutal murder, and he was apprehended just two miles away from the crime scene. When he stood trial months later, Arne pleaded not guilty, claiming that the devil had forced him to commit the crime.
Attorney Martin Minella made a bold statement in defense of Arne Johnson, claiming that he was possessed by a demon and offering evidence to prove it. “The courts have dealt with the existence of God,” Minella told The New York Times in 1981, just a month after the stabbing. “Now they’re going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil.”
The defense team’s argument was further complicated by their assertion that the possession began with Arne’s fiancé’s 11-year-old brother, David Glatzel. The defense claimed that while David was cured of possession, the demon had jumped into Arne, rendering him powerless over his actions.
Glatzl Family’s testimony
According to the Glatzel family, their son David was being tormented by a demon. He claimed to have encountered an old man who taunted him, and the encounters became more frequent and violent over time. David would wake up in the middle of the night, crying and describing a man with black eyes, a thin face, jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns, and hooves – the appearance of a demon.
Ed and Lorraine Warren were contacted by Father Dennis, who was the pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Brookfield at the time. Dennis called and told them that he had tried to help David but that it appeared to be a case of possession to him.
According to David’s family, when he was under possession, he would display violent behavior such as kicking, biting, swearing, and uttering foul language. Additionally, he reported feeling strangled by invisible hands around his neck and being physically thrown about by powerful forces.
Arne, who had developed a strong connection with the family, was present to assist David during this time. However, the symptoms began to manifest even during daylight hours. David described to his family an elderly man with a white beard who was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, and at the same time, strange voices were heard coming from the attic.
After a thorough evaluation of David’s condition, the Warrens came to the conclusion that he was suffering from demonic possession. Nevertheless, the psychiatrists who examined the case disputed the Warrens’ claims and suggested that David only had a learning disability.
The Warrens performed a formal exorcism on David, which lasted several days and was documented in Gerald Brittle’s book, “The Devil in Connecticut.” According to eyewitness accounts, the exorcism was successful and the demon that had taken control of David fled from his body and entered Arne.
During the exorcism, Ed Warren reported hearing banging and growling sounds coming from the basement, as well as witnessing a chair move on its own. Lorraine also claimed to have seen a black mist appear next to David while her husband was interviewing him.
Arne had previously investigated a well near their house, where David claimed to have had his first encounter with the demonic presence. Arne later reported seeing the demon hiding within the well and being possessed by it until after the murder of his landlord at a party.
Trial of Arne Johnson
Lorraine Warren informed the Brookfield police about Arne’s possession on the day after the killing. The trial started on October 28, 1981, in Connecticut’s superior court, but Arne’s attorney’s plea of not guilty by reason of possession was quickly rejected by the judge.
Martin, Arne’s attorney, attempted to subpoena the priests who had attended the exorcisms to testify, but this was not accepted by their peers and Martin and the Warrens faced ridicule from their peers who saw them as exploiting the tragedy for profit.
The judge argued that there was a lack of evidence to support such a defense and that testimony related to demonic possession would be considered “irrelevant and unscientific.” The defense even attempted to argue that Arne acted in self-defense, but the jury was not allowed by law to consider demonic possession as a justification for the killing.
After 15 hours of deliberation over three days, the jury convicted Arne of first-degree manslaughter on November 24, 1981. He was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison, but only served five years.
The movie: “The Devil Made Me Do It”
Gerald Brittle, with the assistance of Lorraine Warren, published The Devil in Connecticut, a book about the incident, two years after Arne’s sentence. The proceeds from the book were divided among the family members.
However, David’s brother sued Brittle and Warren, claiming that the book violated his right to privacy and that it was a “premeditated infliction of emotional distress.” He later claimed that the book was a hoax created by the Warrens to profit from his brother’s illness.
Carl Glatzel Sr., David’s father, denies having told the author that his son was possessed.
Arne and his wife, Debbie, support the Warrens’ account of demonic possession and have stated that the Glatzels are suing for monetary gain. Arne was released from prison after only five years and married his fiancé while still in prison. The couple was still together in 2015.
The events of the Arne Johnson case have also been depicted in the 2021 film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. The movie is part of the Conjuring franchise and focuses on the Warrens’ involvement in the case and the defense’s argument of demonic possession as a cause for the murder.