When did The Devil on Trial take place?

By Louie Fecou
Published: October 19, 2023
When did The Devil on Trial take place?

The 2023 Netflix documentary The Devil on Trial is a tale so twisted it was made into a film that was part of The Conjuring universe. However, the true facts of the 1980s story of alleged demonic possession and murder are even more bewildering than the film. This companion piece will help you with the timeline of events, and also provide some background information about when The Devil on Trial takes place.

The trial of 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne is a bizarre and shocking story, that has obsessed fans of true crime for years.

When did The Devil on Trial take place?

The documentary explores the first, and probably last time, that demonic possession was used as a defense in a murder trial in the US. In 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson would stand trial for the brutal murder of his landlord Alan Bono, and his defense was demonic possession. He claimed he was possessed by the Devil, who encouraged him to commit the terrible crime.

As the infamous demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren were both involved in the case, it would be made into part of The Conjuring series as The Devil Made Me Do It, but this film version would be heavily stylized, and of course dramatized, so if you want a more fact-based version of events you may want to check out the documentary.

The Devil on Trial Synopsis

The documentary explores the events leading up to the trial and uses reconstructions and interviews to provide viewers with the facts.

News reports and police files also provide insight into the case, which explores the series of incredible events, chronicling the behavior of a young Arne Johnson, and the subsequent involvement of the Warrens, who claimed the boy would need an exorcism, believing him to be possessed.

The Warrens would claim that it was the demon that committed the murder, not Arne.

What did Arne Johnson do?

Arne had a girlfriend named Debbie Glatzel, and on February 16, 1981, he would be with his girlfriend and his landlord Alan Bono at Brookfield Kennel.

Debbie worked at the kennels, and Bono was a manager there too. On the day of the attack and murder, Arne would not go to his own place of work, claiming he was ill, but would instead visit Debbie, and go for lunch along with Bono and Debbie’s younger sister, and his own cousin Wanda.

However, tensions would escalate after the lunch and Arne would attack Bono, stabbing him over twenty times, and then claim he had no memory of the attack.

He would allege to be possessed by a demon, and this was corroborated the next day by Lorraine Warren when talking with the police.

What happened to Arne Johnson?

In October of 1981, Arne was placed on trial, and his lawyer said that he was possessed at the time of the killing, leading to a massive media presence descending on the courtroom.

This courtroom strategy had never been done before, and the court would throw the defense out as it was not possible to prove scientifically that demonic possession had occurred. The presiding Judge of the case, Robert Callaghan, would deem the defense inadmissible.

Arne was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to between ten and twenty years in jail. He would serve only five, being released early on good behavior.

RELATED: Where is David Glatzel now?

Arne would find Debbie still waiting for him after his release, and they married and started a family.

The Warrens would continue to claim that Arne had been possessed, and would state in interviews that they felt a demonic presence had influenced Arne.

The case is a truly bizarre and horrifying story, and many people have, in hindsight, been quick to assert that the Warrens are nothing more than very persuasive con artists. They have written extensively about their experiences with the paranormal, and The Conjuring films were inspired by their cases.

Ed Warren passed in 2006, and Lorraine occasionally makes public appearances, but the truth about their cases will probably never be fully known.

RELATED: Where is Martin Minnella now?

Features, News, RSC Originals