What the jury didn’t hear at the trial of the man accused in the London, Ont., attack

By Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

From alternate attack targets and extreme views on many populations to a near-resignation from a defence lawyer, there was plenty jurors at the trial of Nathaniel Veltman were barred from hearing as they considered the case of the man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in what prosecutors have alleged was an act of terrorism.

As the jury now weighs the fate of the 22-year-old – who has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder – here is some of what they did not know.

Veltman considered attacking abortion clinics and a women’s hospital in Toronto

After Veltman took to the witness stand to testify in his own defence, the Crown suggested – when the jury was not present – that it might bring evidence related to a trip the accused took to Toronto a day before the attack in London, Ont.

That evidence would include a screenshot from his phone of a map with directions to the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. Prosecutor Jennifer Moser said the screenshot was taken on the day of his trip to Toronto.

Veltman also had abortion clinic addresses written on a paper found in his apartment, Moser said.

While the jury heard that Veltman took a trip to Toronto, jurors did not hear evidence on the directions to the women’s hospital and the details on the abortion clinic addresses.

They also did not hear the full version of Veltman’s statement to police after the attack. Redacted parts of that statement included Veltman saying he thought about attacking abortion doctors and clinics long before he committed his attack in 2021.

“I first thought of committing a terrorist act when I was 13 years old,” Veltman said, according to a transcript of the unredacted version of his statement read out by Moser.

Moser said Veltman talked about anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder, who fatally shot American abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009, as “another inspiration” for him.

“He was not even talking about Muslims whatsoever in the beginning of his statement to police,” she said. “He was going back in time when he was thinking about Nazi Germany, when he was thinking about abortion doctors.”

Veltman’s defence lawyer, Christopher Hicks, said the Crown suggestion that it might present those details amounted to a reopening of the Crown’s case. The judge and the Crown disagreed with him.

After hours of legal arguments, Moser said the Crown would abandon its request to introduce the evidence for the benefit of keeping the trial moving forward.

Veltman has extreme views against LGBTQ+ marches, COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines

In Veltman’s unredacted statement to police, he was heard talking about his hatred not only for Muslims but also for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The Crown argued the jury should see that part of the statement during the trial.

“(The statement) has been edited to just concentrate on Mr. Veltman’s comments regarding his hate and his own stated racism against Muslim people,” Moser said. “We very carefully redacted it out so that his statement only looks like that’s all he was talking about.”

Moser said Veltman also spoke in his police interview of his extreme views against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines – which the jury did not hear about.

Moser said the redacted parts of Veltman’s statement show he was not a young man influenced by the internet to kill Muslims but in fact a terrorist with far-right white nationalist ideology.

The defence asked for time to respond to the Crown’s request, which the Crown eventually abandoned to keep the trial moving forward.

Defence lawyers wanted the jury to watch 15 hours of detention cell footage

Veltman’s lawyers suggested during the second week of the trial that the jury should watch about 15 hours of security camera footage showing the accused pacing around in two small detention cells at London police headquarters after his arrest.

Hicks said the videos would show the jury the circumstances in which his client was arrested and that they affected his state of mind. He argued the conditions of Veltman’s arrest could affect how much weight the jury gave to his police statements.

The Crown argued that Veltman had to testify if he wanted to allege that London police oppressed him.

Justice Renee Pomerance asked the defence to work with Crown witness Viktor Poc, a forensics specialist with London police, to edit down and speed up the footage to about four hours of video.

Later in the trial, after the jury watched the video, Hicks asked London police Det. Micah Bourdeau whether he thought the force’s treatment of Veltman was “just” and “fair.” The Crown objected to Hicks’ question.

The judge told Hicks she would have to give the jury an instruction to explain that his suggestions to the detective were inappropriate.

Hicks admitted the instruction was necessary but asked the judge to make sure it wouldn’t affect Veltman’s position at trial.

“I have had many scars over the years. I just don’t want it to hurt Mr. Veltman,” Hicks said.

Crown argued defence expert witness relied on “novel science”

Moser, the Crown prosecutor, suggested that Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist called by the defence, relied on “novel science” to suggest that magic mushrooms Veltman ingested two days before the attack might have had a “rebound effect” a long time after he consumed them.

Moser said Gojer admitted that the effect of mushrooms usually lasts for a few hours but he used the results of an online survey published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal – in which some respondents said they felt the effects of mushrooms for days and weeks – to say Veltman’s state of mind during the attack might have been affected by the drug.

The Crown eventually asked the court to bring Gojer to the stand and ask him whether he had peer-reviewed studies that support his opinion.

Gojer said, without the jury present, that the effects of psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, can last for weeks or months or a year. He said that was because psilocybin can affect the function of brain receptors that react to serotonin.

The judge eventually ruled that Gojer could share his opinion with the jury and the Crown could address its concerns in cross-examination.

Defence lawyer Hicks considered quitting, and asked for a mistrial

The judge’s ruling on Gojer, which came after days of legal arguments, prompted Hicks to consider whether he could continue with the trial.

The judge found that Gojer’s expert opinion on magic mushrooms was not initially known to the court and his views on Veltman had evolved.

“It’s come to light that Dr. Gojer’s opinion is based on a novel scientific theory,” Pomerance said. “In addition, the opinion stated by Dr. Gojer in his report is no longer Dr. Gojer’s opinion. He has changed his views since watching the testimony of the accused at trial.”

Pomerance ultimately decided to allow Gojer to testify.

“It would seem that the defence, or the very least the defence witness is the author of this current misfortune, however that doesn’t derogate from the right of the accused to a fair trial,” she said.

“Having carefully balanced the competing interests at stake in this challenging presentation of issues, I have determined that the best and perhaps only course is to allow Dr. Gojer to continue his testimony.”

Hicks said he wanted time to consult with his client on whether he could continue in his role.

Pomerance started to explain her ruling but Hicks refused to discuss his concerns with her and said he would like to have some time to think.

“I believe you have said quite a lot, Your Honour,” Hicks said to Pomerance.

Hicks eventually decided to stay on.

Hicks later also requested a mistrial, citing inflammatory language used by the Crown during its closing arguments. The judge said she would instruct the jury regarding the language of concern, but dismissed Hicks’ mistrial request.

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