Warning: This story contains distressing details.
After 10 weeks of proceedings, defence lawyers and Crown prosecutors at the trial of the accused killer of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in 2021 are expected to deliver closing arguments this morning before a jury — the first in Canada to consider terrorism alongside first-degree murder charges.
The defence rested its case in Windsor on Nov. 6 and the jury was sent home while lawyers and Ontario Superior Court Justice Renee Pomernace dealt with legal arguments ahead of the final step of the case. Jurors were told to return to the courtroom on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET to hear from lawyers.
Nathaniel Veltman, 22, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges.
Prosecutors say the accused was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he drove his pickup truck into Afzaal family members who were on an evening walk on June 6, 2021.
Four family members were killed — high school student Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her mom Madiha Salman, 44, an engineer, and dad Salman Afzaal, 46, a physiotherapist, as well as family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, an artist and teacher. A boy who was nine years old at the time was seriously injured but survived.
The defence will be first to present its closing submissions, followed by Crown prosecutors.
Judge to explain the law
Neither side can give evidence or interpret the law for the jury in their closing arguments, but they can sum up their case and speak to the facts that were presented during the trial. It’s the lawyers’ final statement to the jury before they hear from the judge, who will explain to them how to apply the law to the facts of the case.
This is the first time a Canadian jury will deliberate not only first-degree murder, which is planned and deliberate, but also terrorism, which is an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of intimidating the public or a segment of the public.
The jury has heard the accused was arrested shortly after the 2021 attack wearing a homemade Crusader shirt, military helmet and bulletproof vest. Police found a manifesto in his apartment and he told a detective he went out that night looking for Muslims to kill in order to send a message.
During his testimony, the accused told the jury he made up that story to justify his actions to himself and the detective, that he had an unhappy childhood, and was compelled by urges and obsessions after months of reading far-right material online. He said his urge was to step on the gas, not to kill the Afzaal family.
The trial was moved to Windsor well before it began jury selection. Reasons for the relocation have been under a publication ban.