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Defence’s star witness testifies, Minassian could not comprehend his actions

Image courtesy of Global News
“I certainly have committed the act of murder and there isn’t any moral justification for it. For the public eye, it would be extremely upsetting and immoral,” Minassian told Westphal in an interview.

December 4, 2020

By Talha Hashmani

Dr. Alexander Westphal, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale school of medicine and the star expert witness for Alek Minassian’s defence counsel, took to the stand this week.

Westphal was involved in assessing Minassian and says that he was brought on as an expert by the defence to show that Minassian did not comprehend his actions surrounding the 2018 van attack, which killed 10 and injured 16. Video clips of interviews between Westphal and Minassian were not shown to the public eye during court proceedings, due to the controversial statements made by Minassian and their relation to his diagnosis of autism.

In his report, Westphal concluded that Minassian’s way of thinking was severely distorted and similar to someone with psychosis. He also acknowledged that Minassian’s autism diagnosis did not cause him to commit murder.

“Autism does not result in people committing crimes,” said Westphal. However, Minassian’s autism, Westphal stated, had made it difficult for him to relate to the emotional mindsets of other people. Through various tests, Westphal concluded that Minassian lacked empathy as well as skills in social communication, something that Westphal states is “not unusual for a person with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)”.

One of the problems associated with autism is the individual’s fixation on certain topics or subjects, said Westphal. In the interviews he had with Westphal, Minassian said that he would go on Encyclopedia Dramatica1 and talked about having a kill count.

1Encyclopedia Dramatica is a wiki forum with pages that list mass shooters and mass killings, with a separate page on kill counts and ranking scores. The site is currently down.

Minassian also talked about the fear he had of failing at his job and that his mission was to die during his murdering spree.

“Either you try the job and fail, or you did this [the van attack] before you get a chance to fail at your job,” said Minassian.

In one of the interviews, Minassian said that he did stuff for attention. He didn’t care that what he did was good or bad and instead fixated on the fact that he did something and accomplished it. When asked if he could do it again, Minassian said that he would attack more women between ages 18-30. He also said that he wanted to make his attack more sensational and wanted media attention

As the interviews were played in court, Westphal said that “the only common element is that none of these [interviews] provide a summary account.” As to why Minassian perpetrated the attack, Westphal said that he does not know why he did it.

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The Crown’s cross-examination of Westphal suggested that he only included things in his report that fit his narrative. They suggested that Minassian was fully aware of his actions and the consequences of committing murder. They also suggested that Minassian did not have social deficits and was able to communicate and socialize with his peers, contrary to the defence’s argument.

By the end of day 15 of the trial, Minassian’s text messages with his father and one of his friends were shown as evidence. The crown concluded on the basis of the texts that Minassian was able to articulate and engage in a social manner with others. A conclusion that Westphal denied citing the differences in social communication in person and over social media.

Regarding the court proceedings, Autism Canada came out with a statement saying:

“With regard to the ongoing trial of Mr. Alek Minassian, who struck 26 pedestrians killing 10 on a Toronto street 2 years ago, Autism Canada wishes to publicly denounce the egregious claims made by Defence Counsel Psychiatrists who attribute the accused’s actions to ‘his autistic way of thinking (sic. being) severely distorted similar to psychosis.’
‘There is no psychosis in ASD and no tendency to anti-social behaviour any more than in the general population. I think you would not get any serious objection from the academic community on that account,’ said Dr. Peter Szatmari, Chief, Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative CAMH.”

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