Warning: This story contains distressing details.
After weeks of testimony including from accused killer Nathaniel Veltman, jury deliberations began Wednesday to determine the fate of the 22-year-old accused in the June 6, 2021, fatal truck attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont.
The accused, who has pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and associated terror charges, took the witness box in his own defence for several days during trial proceedings, which began Sept. 11 in 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 an evening walk. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured but survived.
Earlier Wednesday, after days of closing arguments by Crown and defence lawyers, jurors heard from Justice Renee Pomerance, who explained to them how to apply the law onto the facts of the case. The 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 interviews of the accused.
A cab driver who said he was asked by Veltman to call 911 and "take a video" in the mall parking lot where the accused was arrested.
A forensic psychiatrist who met with the accused several times, diagnosed him after his arrest and spoke on the role mental illness and magic mushrooms may have played in the attack.
Defence and prosecution lawyers agree the accused drove his pickup truck into the Afzaal family while they were out for a walk.
Prosecutors argue the accused was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he struck the family. They also say he intended to intimidate a segment of the population — Muslim people — which is part of the Criminal Code definition of terrorism.
Judge gives reasons for trial venue change
The trial was moved to Windsor well before proceedings began. Until Wednesday, reasons for the relocation were under a publication ban. Now, they can be reported because the jury is sequestered.
Pomerance ruled in August 2022 that the trial should be moved from London because of the intense media coverage of the attack, including comments from the prime minister, Ontario premier and London mayor that condemned the attack.
"The events have not only occurred in Londoners' back yard, so to speak, but they have been portrayed as a direct affront to the city's sense of itself. The events have been seen as striking at the very heart of the municipal identity," Pomerance wrote in her ruling.
The change of venue would "increase the likelihood that a genuinely impartial jury can be selected to hear the trial."
Three weeks into trial proceedings, the accused was the first witness for the defence.
Ahead of his testimony, defence lawyer Christopher Hicks told jurors "there are two sides to every story," and urged them to "rely on common sense, life experience, your collective wisdom and human logic"
Over the course of his testimony, Veltman spoke of his Christian upbringing, detailing a troubled childhood headed by a "passive" father and a "religious fanatic" mother, and then a "process of decline mentally" in the months leading up to the attack.
Veltman is seen on his knees with his hands on his head in the parking lot of Cherryhill Mall in London on June 6, 2021, shortly after the attack on the Afzaals. This image was captured from video presented at the trial. (Supplied by Ontario Superior Court of Justice )
The Crown has said the killing was a result of the accused's far-right ideology, developed over months of online "research" that included watching videos of mass killings and reading white supremacist manifestos left by those killers, including immediately before leaving his apartment the night of the attack.
During the trial, the Crown read out parts of the accused's manifesto, entitled "A White Awakening," which railed against mass immigration, multiculturalism and perceived crimes against white people. The jury has also heard the accused 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 it's possible the after-effects of the mushrooms may have left the accused in a dream-like state and unable to resist obsessive urges to "step on the gas."
The jury was also shown various video footage, including of the arrest of the accused in the London mall's parking lot, while police were interviewing Veltman, and while he was in holding cells at police headquarters.
During the just-completed closing arguments, lawyers on both sides clashed over whether the accused had intentional motives.
Hicks told the jury his client did not intend to kill the family, and they should find his client guilty of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, which is planned, deliberate and includes the intention to kill.
Crown prosecutor Fraser Ball argued the accused began planning his attack in March 2021, when he decided to set aside his suicidal thoughts and turn them outward, Ball said.
"The rage was there, but focused outwards. A determination to kill was there, but he was no longer his own target."
Fourteen jurors were chosen for the trial because of its complexity and length, and possibility not all would be able to continue for the duration. As it turned out, one juror was dismissed on Oct. 30 after testing positive for COVID-19, leaving deliberations in the hands of the other .