Canada

Alek Minassian found guilty for killing 10 people in Toronto van attack after judge rejects NCR plea

Judge Anne Molloy rejected Minassian’s defence that his autism caused such mental deficits he did not know that mass murder was wrong

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The man who drove a rented van down Toronto sidewalks trying to kill as many people as he could has been found guilty of murdering 10 people and attempting to kill 16 more.

The guilty verdict means Judge Anne Molloy rejected Alek Minassian’s defence that autism caused such mental deficits he did not know that mass murder was wrong.

She accepted he was capable of knowing right from wrong when he rented a large van and drove it for 1.2 kilometres along sidewalks of Yonge Street in north Toronto on April 23, 2018.

Prefacing her reading of three sections of her 68-page verdict, Molloy said she would not be saying his name during the hearing because he told psychiatrists afterwards that he committed the acts to attain notoriety.

She referred to him as “John Doe.”

“Mr. Doe thought about committing these crimes over a considerable period of time and made a considered decision to proceed. His attack on these 26 victims that day was an act of a reasoning mind, notwithstanding its horrific nature and not withstanding he has no remorse for it and no empathy for his victims,” Molloy said.

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Minassian, 28, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder as a child.

Before her decision was announced, autism groups had decried Minassian’s defence, saying people with autism are not violent and are more often victims than perpetrators.

Police are in Toronto after a van mounted a sidewalk crashing into a number of pedestrians on Monday, April 23, 2018.
Police are in Toronto after a van mounted a sidewalk crashing into a number of pedestrians on Monday, April 23, 2018. Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Canadian Press

He will be automatically sentenced to a minimum of sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole for at least 25 years.

Minassian “knew that his plan to run down and kill people constituted first-degree murder and that if arrested, he would go to jail for the rest of his life. That is why his plan was to ‘die-by-cop.’ Death being preferable to jail,” Molloy said.

“Mr. Doe knew that the vast majority of people in society would find an act of mass murder to be morally wrong. However, he apparently wanted to achieve fame and notoriety, believing that even negative attention for his actions would be better than to live in obscurity.

“He had been fantasizing about a crime such as this for over a decade.”

Alek Minassian.
Alek Minassian. Photo by LinkedIn via CP

Molloy emphatically rejected defence evidence of Minassian’s damaged mind.

“He chose to commit the crimes anyway, because it is what he wanted to do it. This was the exercise of free will by a rational brain, capable of choosing between right and wrong. He freely chose the option that was morally wrong, knowing what the consequences would be for himself and for everybody else.

It does not matter that he does not have remorse. Nor empathize with the victims.”

Molloy delivered her judgment in a YouTube livestream. It is open for her to decide if he should serve consecutive than concurrent sentences which could keep him incarcerated for the remainder of his life.

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Minassian underwent several psychiatric assessments after his arrest, and most of his trial was hearing from four psychiatrists and a psychologist who examined him and had opinions on his mental status.

Relatives of victims of a deadly 2018 van attack arrive for the verdict in the trial of Alek Minassian, at the provincial Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Ontario March 3, 2021.
Relatives of victims of a deadly 2018 van attack arrive for the verdict in the trial of Alek Minassian, at the provincial Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Ontario March 3, 2021. Photo by Chris Helgren / Reuters

Six-weeks of evidence and arguments wrapped just before the Christmas holidays, with Molloy saying she needed time to weigh the evidence and medical testimony before issuing her verdict.

All mental health assessors found that Minassian fantasized about mass murder and school shootings since he was in high school.

Dr. Alexander Westphal, a U.S.-based psychiatrist who specializes in autism, testified at length during the trial about the ways autism interfered with Minassian’s ability to interact with the world.

“He is stuck at an early developmental stage of the development of moral judgment. He understands the rules, he can articulate the rules, he has a very sophisticated understanding of the rules,” Westphal said. However, he cannot apply them to real life, he said.

Minassian’s autism distorted reality to such a degree it created a serious mental break, Westphal said.

Dr. John Bradford, a well-known forensic psychiatrist who has examined many of Canada’s most notorious killers, including Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, Russell Williams and Luka Magnotta, testified that he did not think autism alone could cause the level of mental disorder needed to trigger an NCR verdict.

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Typically, NCR cases involve delusions and psychosis, and frequently involve a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Dr. Scott Woodside, another forensic psychiatrist, described Minassian as a “mass murderer who happens to have autism” rather than a man whose autism drove him to mass murder. He also rejected the viability of an NCR verdict.

Minassian himself told Woodside: “I don’t think I was mentally ill at the time, to be honest,” court heard.

Relatives of victims of a deadly 2018 van attack arrive for the verdict in the trial of Alek Minassian, at the provincial Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Ontario March 3, 2021.
Relatives of victims of a deadly 2018 van attack arrive for the verdict in the trial of Alek Minassian, at the provincial Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Ontario March 3, 2021. Photo by Chris Helgren / Reuters

Minassian wasn’t going free in either event.

In the short-term, the difference between the options Molloy faced whether he was taken to a prison or to a secure psychiatric facility. In both cases he is in for a long period of incarceration.

Minassian admitted he carefully planned his attack. The six-week trial heard his own, chilling admissions on how he deliberately drove onto the sidewalk, aiming for groups of people, preferably women, and only stopping when he could no longer see out of the windshield.

Minassian said he had hoped to kill 100 people to achieve a world record tally but was satisfied with the 10 he did kill. He injured 16 others in his attack, on April 23, 2018.

People stop to drop off flowers and read notes at a memorial wall at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in Toronto on April 25, 2018, two days after the deadly van attack in which 10 pedestrians were killed.
People stop to drop off flowers and read notes at a memorial wall at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in Toronto on April 25, 2018, two days after the deadly van attack in which 10 pedestrians were killed. Photo by Veronica Henri/Postmedia News

When he was asked by examining psychiatrists if he would do it again if he had the chance, he said he might, to get a higher kill count

Yet on the opening day of the trial, on Nov. 10, he declared: “I’m entering a plea of not criminally responsible for all counts.”

The case took on greater international attention, not only because of the number of victims, but because Minassian claimed he did it in support of an incel rebellion, a fringe ideology of men dangerously angry over their inability to attract sexual interest from women, its name a portmanteau of “involuntary celibate.”

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At trial, court heard from psychologists that he backed away from that claim. While he had sympathy for incel ideas, frequented their online forums, and was somewhat obsessed with the godfather of incel violence, mass murderer Elliot Rodger, he was not a hardcore disciple.

He said he merely piggybacked on the incel brand to boost his notoriety and to make the reasons behind his attack seem more interesting than they were, which he variously listed as loneliness, wanting to be noticed, fear of failing at his new job, and a desire to get a high score on the Internet’s ranking of mass murderers posted in grim forums he frequented.

Molloy is delivering her verdict in a YouTube livestream because of COIDV-19 pandemic precautions. The trial was held entirely online, using Zoom video connections.

Molloy hailed the “heroes of that day,” including Toronto police Const. Ken Lam, who arrested Minassian despite Minassian’s attempt to provoke the officer to shoot him, and Det. Rob Thomas, who conducted an astounding interrogation of Minassian after the arrest.

She also praised citizens and officers who tried to stop Minassian’s van, warned others to get out of the way, and tended to the victims.

Killed in the Toronto van attack were: Renuka Amarasingha, 45; Andrea Bradden, 33; Geraldine Brady, 83; So He Chung, 22; Anne Marie D’Amico, 30; Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94; Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45; Ji Hun Kim, 22; Munir Najjar, 85; and Dorothy Sewell, 80.

This story will be updated throughout the day as more information becomes available.

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