The Devil on Trial (2023)
Director: Chris Holt
Written by: Chris Holt
Tagline: Did the Devil Do It?
In 1981, Arne Johnson stabbed Alan Bono to death. Bono was Johnson’s landlord and had, in the past, dated Johnson’s girlfriend. Although there was no doubt that Johnson was the murderer, he claimed he didn’t remember doing it. When the case went to trial, his defense was that he was possessed by the devil/a demon and therefore wasn’t responsible.
This documentary explores the foundation for that defense and the result of the trial.
In 1980, Arne Johnson was dating Debbie Glatzel. Some of Debbie’s family believed that her younger brother, David was possessed by the devil. On more than one occasion David had to be held down by family members (and Arne) while David cursed, screamed and convulsed. David’s behavior was extreme enough that his mother contacted Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens were famous for their involvement in The Amityville Murders. The Warrens assisted David’s mother in getting the church to conduct an exorcism. During the procedure, as David was struggling, Arne reportedly yelled at the demon, “Leave this little kid alone. Take on me. I’m here.”
So when Arne killed David, he asserted that the devil/demon had made him do it. This documentary uses actual voice recordings. archival footage, home movies and actor recreations to recount the story.
Thoughts (beware of spoilers)
While Arne wanted to use the “the devil made me do it” defense, he never got to. The judge ruled that “possession” was not a valid defense. He didn’t allow it. Arne ended up being found guilty of manslaughter.
Now to David Glatzel. Some of David’s family believed that he was possessed. One of David’s brothers said it was an act. He said that during one of David’s sessions while cursing, hitting and yelling, David’s father came into the room. Father grabbed David and slapped him. Dad told David to shut up and sit in a chair. The brother said, “The devil did as he was told”. In other words, it was an act.
David’s mother was a religious woman. She may have believed that David was possessed at the start. By the time the Warrens got involved, it seemed to be more about fame and the money. Also near the end of the documentary a sick allegation against the mother is made. I won’t give it away, but if true indicates mom had serious issues of her own.
As to the Warrens, this film puts them in a very bad light. They took advantage of David’s family. The Warrens kept almost all of the money off book and movie deals in regard to David’s story. Money that had been promised to the Glatzel family. If you’ve seen The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, that’s the Glatzel family’s story.
The Devil on Trial leaves it to viewers to determine if the possessions were real or not, There’s evidence that could support whatever you decide. As to the actions of the Warrens, the evidence points to them not being on the up and up.