The Conjuring 3 Sheds Light on Arne Cheyenne Johnson Trial That Rocked Connecticut

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It trailer brings the Warrens to Satan’s doorstep. Here's what happened in the Arne Cheyenne Johnson trial.

The Conjuring 3
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It continues the arc of the Conjuring franchise, exploring the continuing misadventures of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), while The Nun and the Annabelle movies tracked the backstories of the pious paranormal pioneers. The newest entry dramatizes one of their most famous cases, which set several legal and historic precedents.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It will be the first main entry in the horror series not helmed by James Wan, who is producing along with Peter Safran. Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) directed the film from David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s screenplay, with a story by Johnson-McGoldrick and Wan.

The story involves the very first murder committed in Brookline, Connecticut, in its 193-year history. It is also the first U.S. legal case where a defendant used the “devil made me do it” defense. Arne Cheyenne Johnson, played by Ruairi O’Connor in the film, stabbed his landlord, Alan Bono, more than 20 times with a pocketknife on February 16, 1981. In what was known in the press as the “Demon Murder Trial,” Johnson claimed demonic possession as his motive.

“The courts have dealt with the existence of God,” Johnson’s attorney Martin Minnella said at the time. “Now they’re going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil.” Ed Warren testified in court the possession was rooted in Johnson’s connection to his fiancée, Debbie Glatzel.

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Johnson moved into Glatzel’s home in May 1980. A month later, her 11-year-old brother, David Glatzel, played by Julian Hilliard, began complaining about increasingly violent encounters with an old man. It escalated until the boy would wake up in the middle of the night crying hysterically. He said he had visions of a “man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns, and hoofs,” according to People. After first discounting the boy’s story, Glatzel’s family asked a priest from a local church to bless the house. When nothing changed, the family called in the Warrens.

Over the course of the possession, David gained 60 pounds. During episodes, he appeared to exhibit special abilities, including levitation and precognition. He even predicted the murder Johnson would go on to commit. The Warrens called in priests from the Catholic Church to help them perform “four minor rites of exorcism” to expel the 43 demons which took up residence in David’s body. While Father Nicholas Grieco of the diocese of Bridgeport denied any exorcism was performed, the Warrens reported the process took several days.

The Warrens Made Me Do It

The first trailer catches the Warrens as they head to Connecticut to investigate a troubled family. The crusading couple soon find evidence of a curse and claim there is deviltry afoot. The trailer also offers a glimpse of the exorcism which made the whole thing possible. 

During the exorcism, witnesses stated they saw a demon transfer from David to Johnson. Ed Warren laid the blame on Johnson, who made the “fatal mistake” of challenging the demons, saying, “Take me on, leave my little buddy alone.”

After the exorcism, the boy was completely cured. Johnson’s defense stated that he hadn’t been the same after David Glatzel’s exorcism. Debbie Glatzel testified that Johnson’s behavior was similar to her brother’s. “Cheyenne would go into a trance,” she told People. “He would growl and say he saw the beast. Later he would have no memory of it. It was just like David.”

Debbie Glatzel worked for the victim at his Brookfield kennel. According to the testimony, Alan Bono took his employees, including Debbie and her nine-year-old cousin Mary, out to lunch on the day of the incident. Bono got drunk, grabbed Mary, and refused to let her go. Johnson attacked him with a five-inch pocket knife. Witnesses described Johnson behaving “like an animal,” stabbing Bono repeatedly, mostly in his chest.

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When word got out Lorraine Warren told the Brookfield Police that Johnson was possessed at the time of the crime, the trial became a media circus. Johnson’s defense attorney cited two British court cases permitting a defense based on demonic possession. Judge Robert Callahan ruled against the defense, arguing the claim could not be objectively proven by evidence or substantiated by science.

Johnson changed his plea to self-defense and all the surrounding media attention vanished. The jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree manslaughter on November 24, 1981. He received a sentence of 10 to 20 years. He served 5, for good behavior. After his release, Johnson and Debbie Glatzel got married.

Th case was later dramatized in the 1983 NBC television movie The Demon Murder Case, which starred Andy Griffith, Cloris Leachman, and Kevin Bacon.

Lorraine Warren wrote The Devil in Connecticut with Gerald Brittle about the case. When the book was reissued in 2006, Debbie’s brother Carl Glatzel sued for damages, calling the occult claims a hoax engineered by the Warrens, who “concocted a phony story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense.”

Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the eighth movie in the Conjuring Universe, which is one of the highest-grossing movie franchises in horror history. The Warrens’ estate still owns the real doll which inspired the Annabelle trilogy.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It will hit theaters and HBO Max on June 4.

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