Arne Cheyenne Johnson, 19, stabbed Alan Bono, 40, more than 20 times with a pocketknife on February 16, 1981. The small community of Brookline, Connecticut was shocked at the murder, the first in its 193-year history. But that was nothing compared to the shock of Johnson’s intended defense: guilty by reason of demonic possession.
Johnson moved in to the home of his girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, in May 1980, a month before her brother David began to claim he was being tormented by a demon. Glatzel’s family sought help from the Catholic church and from famed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who performed “four minor rites of exorcism” to expel the 42 demons allegedly contained in David’s body. During one such rite, Arne Cheyenne Johnson challenged the demons to enter him instead. Not long afterward, Johnson – who had no prior criminal record – stabbed Bono to death.
Martin Minnella, Johnson’s defense attorney, cited 2 British court cases that had permitted a defense based on possession by demons, but Judge Robert Callahan refused the tactic, stating such assertions could not be scientifically or objectively proven by evidence. Minnella argued self-defense instead. The jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree manslaughter on November 24, 1981. He received a sentence of 10 to 20 years, of which he served 5, for good behavior.
Once Minnella’s innovative defense was barred, media attention evaporated from the trial. But in 2006, the Warrens’ book on the case was reissued, and another Glatzel brother sued for damages, calling the occult claims a “phony story . . . to get rich and famous at our expense.”