Warning: Details of the trial coverage are graphic in nature, discretion is advised
Calling his actions “an exercise of free will by a rational brain, capable of choosing between right and wrong,” a judge has found Alek Minassian guilty on all counts at the Toronto van attack trial.
Minassian admitted to planning and carrying out the attack on April 23, 2018, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others when he drove a rental van down a busy sidewalk.
The 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
His defence argued he should be found not criminally responsible for his actions due to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The key issue at Minassian’s trial, which began last November without a jury, was whether he had the capacity at the time of the attack to make a rational choice. On Wednesday, Justice Anne Molloy said he did, stressing that the defence failed to prove Minassian was incapable of understanding his actions were morally wrong.
“He was capable of understanding the impact it would have on his victims,” Justice Molloy said while reading her verdict via YouTube. “He knew death would be irreversible. He knew their families would grieve.”
“He freely chose the option that was morally wrong, knowing what the consequences would be for himself, and for everybody else,” she added. “It does not matter that he does not have remorse, nor empathize with the victims. Lack of empathy for the suffering of victims, even an incapacity to empathize for whatever reason, does not constitute a defence…”
Justice Molloy said she would only refer to Minassian as “John Doe” — saying one of the main motives in the attack was his desire for fame.
“He desperately wanted to achieve fame and notoriety, believing 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,” she said.
While noting that numerous expert witnesses at the trial all agreed that Minassian was on the autism spectrum, Molloy said “he does not have any impairment of his cognitive abilities and is above average in intelligence.”
“Even if he only worked this out intellectually, without truly being able to fully grasp it emotionally or to have empathy, that is sufficient. It still demonstrates that he had a functioning, rational brain, one that perceived the reality of what he was doing, and knew it was morally wrong by society’s standards, and contrary to everything he had been taught about right and wrong. He then made a choice. He chose to commit the crimes anyway, because it was what he really wanted to do.”
Justice Malloy set a return date of March 18th to discuss sentencing.
Elwood Delaney, whose grandmother Dorothy Sewell died during Minassian’s rampage, welcomed Molloy’s ruling.
“I’m relieved that he was found guilty,” said Delaney, who watched the proceedings from his home in Kamloops, B.C.
“We now can start to close this awful chapter and try to move on to a new norm.”
Robert Forsyth, whose 94-year-old aunt Betty Forsyth died after being hit from behind by Minassian, also expressed relief.
“I’m happy with the decision, although it’s hard to use the word happy when you lose a loved one like this,” he said.
“It was clear he knew what he was doing.”
Catherine Riddell, who was brutally injured in the attack, said her years-long anxiety has abated.
“I probably will sleep tonight for the first time in a while,” she said.
“It was the best I could hope for … He can spend the rest of his life in jail because he deserves it.”
Reporters Adrian Ghobrial and Momin Qureshi covered the verdict, follow their tweets below:
Obsession with mass killings
The trial heard that Minassian had fantasized about mass killings for years, starting when he was in high school, where he was bullied for years.
Minassian told several psychiatric assessors he wanted to shoot up his high school, but was unable to find a gun.
At one point he became fixated on an American mass murderer who hated women. He joined an online community of so-called “incels” – males who are involuntarily celibate.
Minassian told a detective hours after the attack that he sought retribution against society because he was a lonely virgin who believed women wouldn’t have sex with him.
Later he mentioned different motives to different doctors who analyzed him.
He told them he had a strong desire to commit a mass killing, he was lonely, worried he’d fail at his upcoming software development job, a belief he’d never have a relationship with a woman, his infatuation with a mass murderer and, what many point to as his biggest motivator, the quest for notoriety.
Three weeks before the attack he booked a rental van for the day after he completed his final college exam, court heard.
Around 1:30 p.m. on a bright and warm April day, Minassian sat in the driver’s seat at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue at a red light.
When the light turned green, he floored it, hopped the curb and began the attack.
He drove for about two kilometres on and off the sidewalk as he killed and maimed unsuspecting pedestrians along the way.
He was arrested moments later following a failed attempt to commit suicide by cop.
Betty Forsyth, Ji Hun Kim, So He Chung, Geraldine Brady, Chul Min Kang, Anne Marie Victoria D’Amico, Munir Najjar, Dorothy Marie Sewell, Andrea Bradden and Beutis Renuka Amarasingha died in the attack.