Van attack killer shows some empathy, psychiatrist concedes in trial

Van attack killer's empathy?

A psychiatrist retained by the defence concedes that the man who killed 10 people in Toronto's van attack has shown empathy in some rare instances since his arrest.

Dr. Alexander Westphal has said Minassian lacks empathy and does not understand the moral wrongfulness of killing 10 people, but says criminal responsibility is a legal opinion, not a psychiatric one.

The 28-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder.

His lawyer had said Westphal would be the only expert to say Minassian should be found not criminally responsible for his actions due to autism spectrum disorder, but the psychiatrist has stopped short of making that conclusion.

Westphal says Minassian was incapable of rational decisions on April 23, 2018 - the day of the attack.

Minassian has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind at the time the sole issue at trial.

Under cross examination from the prosecution, Westphal said Minassian showed a touch of empathy for his father in his police interview.

About nine hours after the attack, Det. Rob Thomas had a long interviewed with Minassian.

At one point, Thomas confronts Minassian after catching him in a lie.

Minassian initially told the detective he had taken the bus to the Ryder rental agency to pick up the van.

But his father actually dropped him off at a coffee shop and then Minassian walked four kilometres to the rental agency, court has heard.

Minassian told the detective he lied in order to protect his father, worried he'd be charged as an accessory to murder.

His father, Vahe Minassian, did not know about his son's plans for the attack, court has heard.

"Do you agree Mr. Minassian lying to protect his father shows his ability to take perspective and have empathy for his father?" Crown attorney Joe Callaghan asked.

"That statement is too general for me — to some degree it does, but I don't think that requires much sophistication in this context, but I will grant you it does require reference to his father's needs as opposed to his own needs, which is unusual for him," Westphal said.

In that police interview, Minassian also refuses to name or discuss anyone else, including the names of his parents or family members.

"He didn’t want to involve others, I suggest," Callaghan said.

"That's right," Westphal said.

"And that demonstrated his ability to have empathy and take the perspective of others and respect their privacy, do you agree or disagree?" Callaghan said.

"I agree with that," Westphal said.

The psychiatrist, who specializes in autism, maintains that despite some examples of empathy, Minassian does not understand that other people have feelings.

Westphal has previously testified that Minassian views people as objects and does not comprehend the devastation of his actions.

He has also said Minassian does not understand what he did was wrong, despite the young man telling the doctor repeatedly he did.

He has concluded that Minassian was incapable of rational decision making at the time of the attack based on his irrational thoughts due to autism spectrum disorder.

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