The devil forced him to kill: the true story behind ‘The Conjuring’

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Insanity, self-defense and passion are some of the usual reasons attached to a not guilty plea during a murder trial.

One you don’t hear very often, however, is Satan. 

The new horror movie “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” out Friday in theaters and on HBO Max, recalls a bizarre event: The first time an American ever pleaded not guilty to a crime on account of being inhabited by an evil spirit.

Arne Cheyenne Johnson, 19, was charged with murdering his landlord, Alan Bono in cold blood in 1981 while the pair fought over his girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, 26. But it wasn’t Johnson who killed his 40-year-old friend, his lawyer unprecedentedly said — a demon manipulated Johnson into stabbing Bono to death with a 5-inch pocket knife.

The horrific tale is part of the “Conjuring” film universe because real-life controversial paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren — played respectively by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga — were hugely involved in the ’80s case.

It began in Brookfield, Conn., when 12-year-old David Glatzel, Debbie’s little brother, began experiencing frightening hallucinations. 

David regularly saw ”a man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns and hoofs,” his mother Judy told People magazine in the lead-up to the trial. The creature, she added, told him to “Beware.” 

As his condition worsened, the boy would growl, hiss and — improbably for a 12-year-old — quote passages from “Paradise Lost.” He often spoke of death and stabbings.

Frightened, the Glatzels enlisted the help of the Warrens, popular TV ghost hunters, who brought along three priests for a series of exorcisms, some of which the supportive boyfriend Johnson was present for.

Lorraine Warren, who was also a psychic, told the Hartford Courant that during one of the rituals, Johnson seemed to sacrifice himself to help save the boy. “Johnson leaped up and cried to the demon, ‘Come into me, I’ll fight you, come into me,’ ” she recalled. His impassioned request worked, they claimed. Johnson was possessed. 

To this day, Debbie and David’s brother Carl Glatzel maintains that the Warrens’ claim was a hoax to make a quick buck, and that David suffered from mental illness as a child. He sued Lorraine Warren and author Gerald Brittle in 2007 when a reprinting of Brittle’s book “The Devil in Connecticut” dredged up the traumatizing experience. The case was dismissed

“That’s why I moved out of Connecticut,” Carl, now 55, recently told the Courant. “I never did believe in the bulls – – t.”

But, according to Debbie, Johnson began seeing the demon too and started acting outlandishly. 

“[He] 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.”

On Feb. 16, 1981, Johnson’s unhinged behavior reached its sad culmination. Johnson, his 15-year-old sister Wanda, Debbie, her 9-year-old cousin Mary and Bono were hanging out when Bono became drunk and aggressive. Wanda told the Washington Post he then grabbed the wrist of Debbie’s 9-year-old cousin and refused to let go. That’s when Johnson fatally stabbed Bono, saying the devil forced his hand.

It was reportedly the first murder in Brookfield in 193 years. He was arrested a day later.

The trial was a sensation at the time, even though the judge refused to allow Johnson’s lawyer Martin Minnella to actually use demonic possession as the reason for a not guilty plea. Johnson was eventually convicted and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, but was released after just five on good behavior.

In a strange twist, while in prison he wed Debbie, the woman whose little brother first allegedly was held captive by the devil.

The Warrens, who are now dead, said the freed Johnson learned to, well, conquer his demon.

“Possession doesn’t last 24 hours a day,” Ed Warren told the AP at the time. “It comes quickly and leaves quickly. Arne understands what happened to him. He now knows if something happens how to ward it off and he won’t be stupid enough to take on the devil again.”

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