A jury considering the case of a man accused of killing two people after opening fire at Toronto’s Eaton Centre six years ago interrupted deliberations on Sunday to ask about the circumstances under which the man could be found not criminally responsible.
Christopher Husbands, 29, is accused of shooting at a group of young men at the mall’s food court on June 2, 2012, killing two of them and injuring several others.
Defence lawyers have told the court that Husbands should not be held criminally responsible as he was in a dissociative state as a result of his post-traumatic stress disorder, which was triggered by an encounter with some of the men who had brutally beaten and stabbed him months earlier.
Crown lawyers have said the psychiatric experts who assessed Husbands agreed he had PTSD, but were split on whether he could have been in a dissociative state when he fired 14 bullets.
On Sunday, the jury asked the judge for clarity on whether Husbands could be deemed not criminally responsible if the jury finds that Husbands could understand the nature and quality of just some of the gunshots he fired.
Husbands’ lawyer, Dirk Derstine, told reporters that it’s clear the jury is weighing the question of criminal responsibility in this case.
“All of the questions were focused, directly or indirectly, on the question of whether or not he was NCR, and not on the other questions which they could potentially address,” Derstine said.
“The judge just said that fell down to the question of the onus that the defence has to establish these things.”
Before the jury was allowed into the court, Husbands sat in the prisoner’s box and took notes as the defence and Crown considered the jurors’ questions.
Wearing reading glasses and a grey suit jacket, Husbands regularly glanced over at reporters and members of the public.
Husbands has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, five counts of aggravated assault and one count each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and reckless discharge of a firearm.
The jury also asked whether the physical act of shooting should be considered along with the outcome of each gunshot.
The defence said there is no way to know which shots caused death and which did not, and Derstine said he believes it’s not worth going “down that rabbit hole.”
In closing submissions last week, prosecutors said doctors noted that the act of aiming and firing a gun is more complex than expected from someone experiencing dissociation.
Last week jurors were also shown stills from security video that shows Husbands holding a gun with his arms at shoulder height, then at a 45-degree angle, then again higher up. Crown lawyers argued that Husbands was purposefully aiming the gun.
Jurors, who have been deliberating since Thursday, have asked to hear Husbands’ testimony again, as well as statements from a doctor who spoke on Husbands’ mental state.
Jurors have heard Husbands faced a previous trial, but were not told the outcome or the reason for a second trial.
Last February, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Husbands’ convictions on two counts of second-degree murder, based on defence arguments about how jurors had been selected. The Appeal Court, finding that the trial judge had improperly rejected a defence request related to jury selection, ordered a new trial.