At first, the 1981 stabbing death of 40-year-old Alan Bono of Brookfield looked like a routine argument gone awry. Police referred to it as an "open-and-shut case."
But then came Arne Cheyenne Johnson's defense: The devil made him do it.
With the help of a pair of famed paranormal investigators, Johnson's defense attorneys sought to prove the 19-year-old killer was innocent because he had been possessed at the time of the killing. It would be the first time a possession defense was used in an American courtroom.
Bono was stabbed several times in the chest and stomach on the lawn of Brookfield Kennels, which he managed, about 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, 1981.
About an hour later, police arrested Johnson — described as a small, blond, fair-skinned man — on a murder charge. The two men had allegedly been arguing over Johnson's girlfriend before the stabbing occurred, the Courant reported.
Taking On The Devil
Days after the stabbing, clergy members, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, Johnson's mother and his girlfriend all claimed Johnson had been possessed at the time of the killing.
The Warrens told police that since July 1980 Johnson had participated in at least three exorcisms involving his girlfriend's 11-year-old brother David, who purportedly had been inhabited by 43 demons.
During one of the rites, the Warrens told police, "Johnson leaped up and cried to the demon, 'Come into me, I'll fight you, come into me,'" The Courant reported on Feb. 27, 1981. "From that time on, he was possessed, they said."
Although police ordinarily would disregard such unusual claims, the Bridgeport diocese's involvement changed things.
"Brookfield priests called in the diocese after they heard the 11-year-old's story that he had recently entered a Newtown house, sat on a water bed and was suddenly confronted by an elderly man with hooves, whose image was soon joined by men in grotesque costumes," the Warrens told police, according to The Courant.
Shortly after Bono was killed, the diocese stopped commenting on the boy's case, but a spokesman did acknowledge that a priest had been assigned to investigate the boy. The spokesman told the Courant it was the first time the diocese had assigned an investigator to look into "diabolical possession."
Johnson was present for the exorcisms and soon began to display violent behavior. At one point, he reportedly put his fist through a chest of drawers, growling like an animal, and then couldn't remember the incident, The Courant reported.
"We knew this case would end in tragedy; it was inevitable," Lorraine Warren told The Courant. "But Arne was the last one we would have ever thought it could happen to."
Before Johnson was indicted on March 19, 1981, Waterbury lawyer Martin J. Minnella offered to take on his case for free. Minnella's plan to pursue the unprecedented "demon possession" defense was widely publicized.
Minnella said he hoped to subpoena the priests involved in the exorcism, and hoped they would break tradition and speak about the rites.
A Fight Over Johnson's Girlfriend
Though police investigated the Warrens' claims, they maintained that Bono was stabbed after a fight over Deborah Glatzel, Johnson's 26-year-old girlfriend.
In April, Johnson's lawyers gained permission to examine the clothing and tissue remains of Bono, who had been cremated. They said the absence of blood, rips or wounds could prove that demons were involved, The Courant reported.
As the case progressed toward trial, the Warrens and Minnella drew criticism from their peers, who said they were involved in the case for personal gain.
"Typical of the criticism of the Warrens are comments by mentalist George Kresge, better known as The Amazing Kreskin, who argues that the Brookfield case is simply a means for the couple to prey on the superstitions of the public and build up their annual lecture revenues," reporter John B. Harris wrote in The Courant's June 22, 1981, story.
"They have an excellent vaudeville act, a good road show. It's just that this case more involves clinical psychologists than it does them," Kresge said in the story.
Local attorneys said Minnella was representing Johnson to rake in the publicity and that the legal community didn't take the possession defense seriously.
Both the Warrens and Minnella stood by their involvement in the case.
Although copies of a book about the Warrens — "The Demonologist" — were flying off the shelves after they spoke out about the case, Lorraine Warren told the Courant "she and her husband work closely with church officials and view demonology as an extension of theology."
"It would be defeating our purpose to do anything deceitful or dishonest," she said.
Harris, who covered the entire case, wrote that Minnella admitted to the press early on "that he thought handling such publicized cases led to more lucrative ones, but stressed this week that he took the case because he was convinced it was strong."
A Packed Courtroom
As jury selection was set to begin in late October, reporters and believers in the supernatural flocked to Danbury for what was dubbed "The Demon Murder Trial." The local Hilton Hotel was completely booked for nights, and people worried that the courtroom, which could hold 70 people packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, wouldn't be big enough.
Many had assumed that Minnella would use possession as a type of insanity defense, but he said he would set out to prove Johnson was actually possessed.
"Minnella, who has said publicly he will prove that demons exist, plans to bring into evidence tapes of [the exorcism] rites and Johnson's challenge, and to question priests who participated," Harris wrote in an Oct. 26, 1981 story.
"The value of this case is that people who are truly under demonic possession … will be able to go into a court of law and have that jury and that judge be much more understanding," Ed Warren said in the story.
But just as quickly as the demon defense took off, it was shot down by Superior Court Judge Robert J. Callahan, who later become chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
No Demon Defense
"Somewhere on the road to pinning a murder rap on Satan, Martin Minnella got waylaid," Harris wrote in his Nov. 1, 1981, story.
At the start of the trial, Callahan said he refused to hear Minnella's planned arguments about the devil's work.
"I'm not going to allow the defense of demon possession, period," he said. Although Minnella tried to have Callahan disqualified from the case, Callahan didn't budge.
"While admitting he's not sure whether demon possession is possible, Callahan said … he knows it's not a legal defense and considers evidence of it irrelevant, unprovable and needlessly confusing to a jury," The Courant reported.
Prosecutor Walter D. Flanagan and police stuck with their simple explanation — Bono had made an obscene remark about Johnson's girlfriend, and the two men tussled before Johnson stabbed Bono.
Suddenly, the case lost its luster. Many reporters who had come from around the country left by the third day of the trial, The Courant reported.
Prosecutors, who had divulged little about their case against Johnson while Minnella kept the focus on the devil, said another type of demon played a role in the case: drink.
The state argued that Johnson and Bono had been drinking heavily before Bono was killed. A waitress testified that she had served three carafes of red wine to the two men, who were with Deborah Glatzel and other family members at the Mug 'N' Munch Café on the afternoon of the stabbing, The Courant reported.
That evening, the group was in the apartment Johnson and Glatzel shared. Then, a neighbor heard loud noises outside and saw two people running toward Bono, The Courant reported. An ambulance driver and police officer arrived to find Bono lying face up with four "half-moon shaped" stab wounds below his rib cage.
The ambulance driver testified that Glatzel and her father were standing near the body. Glatzel, who appeared distraught, said repeatedly, "Oh Daddy, he didn't mean to do it. You know how he gets when he's been drinking."
The police officer testified that Glatzel's brother, Carl, told him, "Cheyenne did it."
Despite Callahan's banning of the demon defense, Minnella attempted to put four priests on the stand. Callahan wouldn't allow it. Ed Warren was relegated to being a character witness who took the stand for only a few minutes, saying Johnson was "quiet and considerate and that it was 'very hard to believe' he could have murdered anyone," before he "reluctantly" stepped down, The Courant reported.
Thwarted from using his unprecedented argument, Minnella tried to prove his client had acted in self-defense.
Johnson testified on his own behalf, saying Bono was drunk and provoked the argument, the Courant reported. He said he didn't remember what happened after Bono ran at him with the 5-inch knife Johnson used for his job as a tree surgeon, until he was apprehended by police.
The state never established a motive, but Flanagan said Johnson "did what he wanted to do" when he stabbed Bono, according to The Courant's story about the closing arguments. Flanagan said the number and depth of the wounds showed Johnson's intent to kill.
Manslaughter, Not Murder
After deliberating for 17 hours over three days, the jury convicted Johnson of manslaughter — not murder — on Nov. 24, 1981.
The jury's conclusion meant they didn't think Johnson acted with intent to kill Bono, only to injure him, Harris wrote. One of the jury's last requests for a transcript of testimony was that of a policeman who had said Johnson told him, "I think I hurt someone."
Minnella vowed to appeal on the grounds that he was barred from using the demon defense, but never did.
Johnson received the maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years on Dec. 18, 1981. He was released for good behavior after serving just over four years at the Connecticut Correctional Institute in Somers.
The case spawned a 1983 book, "The Devil in Connecticut" by Gerald Brittle, and an NBC television movie, "The Demon Murder Case," starring Andy Griffith, Cloris Leachman and Kevin Bacon.
Johnson married Deborah Glatzel on Jan. 30, 1985, a year before he was released from prison. The couple live in Sherman and have two sons and two grandsons, Deborah Johnson said Thursday. She is a certified nurse's assistant, and her husband is a construction superintendent.
Deborah Johnson said she is still interested in the supernatural and contributes to an online radio show on demonologytoday.com. She remains friends with Lorraine Warren.
Arne's mistake all those years ago, she said, was challenging "the beast" that had possessed her youngest brother.
"You never take that step," she said. "You never challenge the devil. Arne started showing the same signs my brother did when he was under possession."
But now, the past is in the past, she said. "We live a normal life."
Minnella, who lives in Middlebury, continues to stand by Johnson's case. He said in a phone interview Thursday that he heard the tapes of David Glatzel speaking the names of 42 demons in Latin, and that the Brookfield Police Chief was going to testify that he saw the child levitate.
"If you believe in God, you've gotta believe in the devil," Minnella said, "and what I saw in Arne as a young guy has profoundly affected me the rest of my life.
"There's a lot of crazy people out there that have contacted me to represent them with the same idea, 'the devil made me do it.' But our case was based on fact, not fiction."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun