Here's what the jury in London Ont. murder-terrorism trial didn't hear
Now that the jury is deliberating the verdict for Nathaniel Veltman, a publication ban on reporting evidence heard in the absence of the jury has expired.
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.
REQUEST FOR MISTRIAL
On Wednesday morning, in the middle of the Crowns’ closing arguments, the defence submitted a motion for mistrial.
"There is a real danger trial fairness has been compromised," defence lawyer Christopher Hicks told Justice Renee Pomerance.
He said the defence was shocked by certain portions of the Crown's closing arguments; specifically references to the crime scene and the injuries the victims suffered.
Crown Attorney Fraser Ball also referred to the clothing worn by the Afzaal women as "bright red cloth enraging a charging bull."
"We’re quite shocked," Hicks argued to Justice Pomerance. "You can’t cure this. It’s too extreme."
Hicks feared the jury would be emotional impacted by the inflammatory words and would consider the case based on those emotions.
“The crown is entitled to make its case with vigour and force,” federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh argued, saying the crown believed a mid-trial instruction from the judge about the comments would suffice in rehabilitating the jury.
Ball further argued the evidence at trial had already been “sanitized” in that the jury never saw any autopsy photos of the victims.
Justice Pomerance ruled a mistrial is only a “drastic remedy in the last resort,” opting instead for an instruction “to overcome prejudice.”
She also noted a previous court ruling that judges should not underestimate the intelligence of Canadian juries to follow their oath or affirmation and judge the evidence without emotion.
The judge provided an instruction to the jury in the middle of Balls’ closing, telling them “in no uncertain terms” to set aside any emotional reactions they might have had from Balls’ comments.
And, Ball himself offered his “sincerest apologies” if his comments upset any of the jurors.
Before the trial even began, the crown prosecutors wanted a publication ban on all references to Veltmans’ own manifesto as well as those written by another mass shooter of Muslims.
The media successfully argued against the ban, believing they were a significant portion of the case against Veltman, specifically the allegations his actions were motivated by terrorism.
The judge ruled the media - as the public’s eyes and ears - had a duty to report on the facts in a case and the court had a duty to be "open."
During the trial, the defence tried to block the crown from reading sentences directly from Veltmans’ manifesto, for fear it would cause the jury to be prejudiced against their client.
The judge ruled against the defence motion and allowed the crown to use direct quotes from the manifesto.
At the end of the closing arguments, the excerpts used by the crown at trial were given to the jury as an exhibit. The entire document was not publicly released.
DR. GOJER’S CHANGING OPINION
There were three voir dires (mini trials within a trial) on the expert evidence of the defence witness Dr. Julian Gojer.
The first one was a normal course of action; allowing the court to go through an expert’s resume to verify they are qualified to offer expert opinion.
Justice Pomerance ruled Dr. Gojer – a forensic psychiatrist - could provide testimony on Veltmans’ mental state of mind at the time of the offences.
In a second ruling, Justice Pomerance rejected a defence application and did not let the doctor comment on Veltman’s state of mind during the videotaped police statements.
A third voir dire was required to return to the admissibility of the doctor’s evidence.
"It has come to light that Dr. Gojer’s opinion is based on a novel scientific theory. This was not disclosed to the court at the time of the original voir dire," Justice Pomerance said.
The judge expressed concern that Dr. Gojer never told the court his final opinion would be based on Veltmans' testimony.
She was also concerned that his evidence "did not disclose a defence known to Canadian law" but she took defence counsel "at their word" that a defence would be presented in "the fullness of time."
"During the original voir dire, I refrained from pressing the defence to disclose its strategy," Justice Pomerance said. "It is now clear to me that I should not have granted that latitude to the defence."
The judge further stated had she known about this, she might not have allowed Dr. Gojer’s evidence at all.
Instead of instructing the jury to disregard the evidence, the judge rather ruled the situation could be remedied by a "fulsome cross-examination."
"In closing, it would seem that the defence – or at the very least, a defence witness – is the author of this current misfortune. However that does not derogate from the right of the accused to a fair trial," Justice Pomerance said and allowed Dr. Gojer’s evidence to be cross-examined.
LAWYER THREATENED TO QUIT
At the conclusion of that ruling, on Nov. 2, Christopher Hicks, one of Veltmans' two defence lawyers, told the court he didn’t think he could continue with the trial.
He told Justice Pomerance she had "diminished the status of counsel" in both the eyes of the jury and his client, Nathaniel Veltman.
The judge apologized if that was the impression he was left with, but she also told him it’s her duty as the “gate keeper” of evidence to be fair and even-handed.
"Courts must be free to disagree," Justice Pomerance told him.
After a lengthy break to talk to his co-counsel and Veltman, Hicks ultimately decided to continue with the trial.
Trip to Toronto: Veltman considered attacking abortion clinics and a women's hospital
After Veltman took to the witness stand to testify in his own defence, it was suggested to the jury by the Crown that it might bring evidence related to a trip Veltman took to Toronto a day before the London attack.
The Crown said evidence included a screenshot from Veltman’s 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, according to Moser.
While the jury did hear hat 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.
The jury also didn’t 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's 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.
Crown Attorney Jennifer 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.
— With files from The Canadian Press