- “The Devil on Trial” is a Netflix documentary that explores the infamous “Devil Made Me Do It” case, where demonic possession was used as a defense in a murder trial.
- The documentary focuses on the true-crime aspect of the story and features interviews with David Glatzel, who speaks out about his own possession and its connection to the murder.
- The trial ultimately resulted in Arne Cheyenne Johnson being convicted of first-degree manslaughter and serving a shortened sentence due to good behavior. The Glatzel siblings have since been estranged.
The Devil on Trial, Netflix’s 2023 horror-meets-true crime documentary, delves into the so-called “Devil Made Me Do It” case. Popularized by The Conjuring 3‘s fictional retelling of Arne Johnson’s story, the 1981 murder trial at the center of the documentary marks the first time demonic possession was used as a defense in the United States. Famously, world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were involved in the case. Between the demonologists’ notoriety and the novelty of the “devil made me do it” defense, the trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson made national headlines.
Of course, just because Johnson claimed demonic possession drove him to commit murder doesn’t mean the court bought it. Unlike other documentaries of a similar ilk, The Devil on Trial really puts a spotlight on the “true” component of the true-crime genre. The real hook, perhaps, is that David Glatzel, who was then 11 years old, also speaks out about his own demonic possession (and how it led to Johnson’s). The Devil on Trial may leave out details about the Glatzel case, but the doc offers up some new insight, too. Using real photos and recordings as well as reenactments based on documented events, The Devil on Trial attempts to take a fresh look at a well-worn, sensationalized story based on true proceedings.
Alan Bono’s Death: What Happened?
Before murdering 40-year-old Alan Bono, Arne Cheyenne Johnson had been living with his girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, in her parents’ house. When Debbie was hired by Bono as a dog groomer for his Brookfield, Connecticut-based kennel, she and Johnson decided to rent an apartment closer to work. On the day of the killing, February 16, 1981, Johnson called out sick and joined Debbie, his sister Wanda, and Debbie’s cousin, Mary, at the dog kennel. During lunch, Bono reportedly drank heavily and became agitated (via The Washington Post).
Allegedly, Bono grabbed Mary in his agitation, prompting Johnson to confront him. Although Debbie and Wanda tried to intervene and separate the two men, Johnson started exhibiting bizarre behavior. While growling like a feral dog, he pulled a pocket knife on Bono and stabbed him “four or five” times in the torso (via The New York Times). As a result of the severe injuries, Bono died a few hours later. Johnson, meanwhile, was found nearly two miles from the scene of the crime. The next day, famed psychic and demonologist Lorraine Warren told the Brookfield Police her own assessment: Johnson had been possessed while committing the murder of Alan Bono.
Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s Court Case Verdict Of Alan Bono’s Murder
A media blitz erupted around the so-called “Demon Murder Trial,” with Johnson’s lawyer, Martin Minnella, leaning on the Warrens’ expertise. When the trial began on October 28, 1981, Minnella submitted a not guilty plea on Johnson’s behalf, citing his client’s innocence by virtue of possession. Connecticut Superior Court judge Robert Callahan balked at Minnella’s efforts, deeming any would-be evidence related to the defense “irrelative and unscientific” (via Time). Despite being widely known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, Johnson’s defense ended up framing the killing as an act of self-defense. Ultimately, a jury convicted Johnson of first-degree manslaughter on November 24 of the same year.
What Happened To Arne Cheyenne Johnson
After being charged with manslaughter in the first degree, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. Instead of serving a decade, or multiple decades, Johnson’s sentence lasted just 5 years in light of his good behavior. While incarcerated, Johnson earned a high school diploma and married Debbie Glatzel. In the immediate aftermath, Johnson and the Glatzels didn’t provide public comments, though the Warrens did speak about the case. “Arne understands what happened to him. He now knows if something happens how to ward it off,” Ed Warren said of Johnson’s past possession (via AP News), “and he won’t be stupid enough to take on the devil again.“
David Glatzel’s Possession: Was It Real?
Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s alleged demonic possession reportedly stemmed from an earlier incident involving Debbie’s younger brother, David Glatzel. In The Devil on Trial, David speaks publicly about his own possession for the first time. According to David, he first encountered the demon at Arne and Debbie’s new rental, and claimed it “looked like the devil from a Halloween costume.” As David’s behavior grew more erratic, his mother employed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, the now-subjects of many horror movies. In turn, the Warrens secured the Catholic Church’s permission to perform an exorcism.
During said exorcism, the demonic entity wouldn’t leave David, prompting a well-intentioned Arne to intervene. David’s soon-to-be brother-in-law offered himself to the demon instead. Upon inviting the demon in, Arne recalled feeling, “this coldness come over me — ice-cold.” The most outspoken skeptic is Carl Glatzel, David’s older brother. “Honestly, I think my family’s nuts,” Carl says at one point during the doc. At the time, he thought Arne was just possessive of his sister, Debbie, leading him to lash out at Bono. However, years later, Carl found evidence that their mother had been drugging them all on a regular basis with the sleeping aid Sominex, which can cause mood swings and hallucinations.
What Happened To The Glatzel Family: David, Carl, Debbie, & Alan
In The Devil on Trial, Carl maintains his skepticism. Not only does he believe that David potentially ingested enough Sominex to see things, but he calls the Warrens out for profiting off his family’s story. While Carl and David have prominent roles in the documentary, it’s clear that the events of 1980–81 drove a real wedge between all the Glatzel siblings. Since their parents died, the four siblings — David, Carl, Debbie, and Alan — have been estranged (via Women’s Health Magazine). Despite the hardship of the “Devil Made Me Do It” media blitz, Arne and Debbie remained married until Debbie’s passing in 2021.
“The Devil Made Me Do It” Impact After The Trial
In the immediate aftermath of the “Devil Made Me Do It” trial, a made-for-TV movie, The Demon Murder Case, was released on NBC. In 1983, author Gerald Brittle published a book, The Devil in Connecticut, about the possessions. Brittle maintains that the Glatzel family wanted their story told, though David and Carl have since sued the publisher. While David and Carl feel taken advantage of by the mass media frenzy (and the real-life Warrens‘ potentially self-motivated involvement), Arne and Debbie believe the Glatzel siblings were just suing for money. More recently, 2021’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It revolved around the events depicted in The Devil on Trial.
Sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time, AP News, Women’s Health Magazine