Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
After weeks of testimony, including that of accused killer Nathaniel Veltman, jury deliberations began Wednesday to determine the fate of the 22-year-old accused of the fatal June 6, 2021, truck attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont. .
The defendant, who pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and associated terrorism charges, took the witness stand in his own defense for several days during the trial, which began on September 11 in the Ontario Superior Court in Windsor. .
High school student Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, a teacher and artist, were killed while out for a walk night. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured but survived.
ET on Wednesday, after just over two hours of deliberations, the jury was sent to a hotel for the night and told to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Early Wednesday, after days of closing arguments from defense and Crown attorneys, jurors heard from Judge Renee Pomerance, who explained how to apply the law to the facts of the case. Jurors also heard testimony from several other witnesses throughout the trial, including:
- Police officers involved in the arrest shortly after the June 6, 2021 attack on the Afzaal family and in the interviews of the accused.
- A taxi driver who said Veltman asked him to call 911 and “record video” in the parking lot of the shopping center where the defendant was arrested.
- A forensic psychiatrist who met with the defendant several times diagnosed him after his arrest and discussed the role that mental illness and magic mushrooms may have played in the attack.
Defense and prosecution lawyers agree that the accused ran over the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk.
Prosecutors argue that the accused was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he hit the family. They also say he intended to intimidate a segment of the population, Muslims, which is part of the Penal Code’s definition of terrorism.
Judge explains the reasons for the change of venue of the trial
The trial was moved to Windsor long before the proceedings began. Until Wednesday, the reasons for the transfer were under a publication ban. Now, they can be denounced because the jury is sequestered.
Pomerance ruled in August 2022 that the trial should be moved from London due to intense media coverage of the attack, including comments from the Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario, and the Mayor of London condemning the attack.
“The events have not only occurred in Londoners’ backyard, so to speak, but have been portrayed as a direct affront to the city’s sense of self. The events have been seen as a blow to the very heart of the city. municipal identity”. Pomerance wrote in his ruling.
The change of venue would “increase the likelihood that a genuinely impartial jury can be selected to hear the trial.”
Three weeks into the trial, the defendant was the defense’s first witness.
Before the defendant’s testimony, defense attorney Christopher Hicks told jurors that “every story has two sides” and urged them to “trust common sense, life experience, collective wisdom and human logic.” .
Throughout his testimony, Veltman spoke of his Christian upbringing, detailing a troubled childhood led by a “passive” father and a “religious fanatic” mother, and then a “process of mental decline” in the months before the attack. .
The Crown has said the murder was a result of the defendant’s far-right ideology, developed during months of online “research” that included watching videos of mass murders and reading white supremacist manifestos left by those killers, even immediately before leaving. from his apartment that night. of the attack.
During the trial, the Crown read portions of the defendant’s manifesto, titled “A White Awakening,” which criticized mass immigration, multiculturalism and alleged crimes against whites. The jury also heard that the defendant took psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, in the early hours of June 5, 2021, about 40 hours before the attack on the Afzaal family.
Dr. Julian Gojer, a longtime forensic psychiatrist, said the aftereffects of the mushrooms may have left the defendant in a dreamlike state and unable to resist obsessive urges to “step on the gas.”
The jury was also shown several video images, including the defendant’s arrest in the parking lot of the London shopping center, while Veltman was being questioned by police, and while he was in police headquarters holding cells.
During just-concluded closing arguments, attorneys for both sides clashed over whether the defendants had intentional motives.
Hicks told jurors that his client did not intend to kill the family and that they should find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder, which is planned, deliberate and includes the intent to kill.
Crown prosecutor Fraser Ball argued that the defendant began planning his attack in March 2021, when he decided to put his suicidal thoughts aside and take them outside, Ball said.
“The rage was there, but focused outward. There was a determination to kill, but he was no longer his own target.”
Fourteen jurors were chosen for the trial because of its complexity and length, and the possibility that not all of them would be able to continue for the duration. As it turned out, one juror was dismissed on October 30 after testing positive for COVID-19, leaving deliberations in the hands of the other.