Alek Minassian Found Guilty in Toronto Van Mass Killing

Alek Minassian Found Guilty in Toronto Van Mass Killing

Since the defendant had already pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, the six-week trial focused on his state of mind, and whether his disorder had rendered him incapable of understanding his crime was wrong. This was once known as the “insanity defense.”

The defendant’s lawyers made a novel argument that while Mr. Minassian understood what he had done was legally wrong, his form of autism spectrum disorder made him incapable of feeling empathy and understanding the inner world of others, which was a necessary component of making rational decisions.

A finding of not criminally responsible is uncommon in Canada and the vast majority of them relate to episodes of psychotic spectrum disorder or mood disorders. Some experts said that despite the decision, the case had set new legal ground, as the government lawyers and the judge had conceded during the trial that a person with severe autism spectrum disorder, likely coupled with other disorders, would qualify for this kind of defense.

The defendant, 28, never took the stand, so all insights into his motives and state of mind came through the expert testimony of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who interviewed him after the crime and examined files taken from more than two dozen electronic devices in his family home.

Over the weeks, a complicated portrait of the defendant emerged: He grew up in a Toronto suburb, biking and bowling, and was intellectually advanced, but he had a form of autism spectrum disorder that made him socially stunted and unable to form close emotional bonds. He developed ticks and was bullied, but had a loving family and a few friends. And he was accomplished: A couple days before picking up the rental van to complete his grisly plan, he had handed in the final assignment for his college degree in computer programming, and was set to start a $55,000-a-year software development job.

He had no criminal history, and no history of violence.

Mr. Minassian’s father, in an emotional testimony, described his son as “happy” and “gentle,” and said there were no signs he was plotting such a terrible deed. “The chances of Alek doing that would be like being struck by lightening on a Sunday, twice,” said the father, Vahe Minassian.

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