Van Attack Killer Would Carry out Attack Again to Better ‘Kill Count,’ Court Hears

Van Attack Killer Would Carry out Attack Again to Better ‘Kill Count,’ Court Hears
Crown attorney Joe Callaghan, clockwise from top left, Justice Anne Molloy, accused in the April 2018 Toronto van attack Alek Minsassian and Dr. Alexander Westphal are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch on Nov. 30, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Alexandra Newbould)
The Canadian Press

TORONTO—A psychiatrist says the man who killed 10 pedestrians in Toronto’s van attack said he'd consider carrying it out again to better his “kill count.”

Dr. Alexander Westphal is testifying for the defence at the trial of Alek Minassian and says the 28-year-old views people as objects and does not understand that what he did was wrong.

Westphal says that’s because Minassian lacks empathy due to his autism spectrum disorder.

The psychiatrist says Minassian never developed a true understanding that other people have feelings and would suffer as a result of what he did.

Minassian, from Richmond Hill, Ont., has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder and argues he should be found not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018.

He has admitted to planning and carrying out the attack, leaving his state of mind the sole issue at the judge-alone trial.

Westphal said Minassian, due to his autism spectrum disorder, did not develop what’s called “theory of mind”—the ability to understand that other people have their own way of thinking, their own beliefs, feelings, desires and different ways of thinking about the world.

“To not recognize that, to see people as objects in the way that Mr. Minsassian clearly did, to me, reflects a very substantial breakdown of this entire process,” Westphal said.

Minassian was heavily influenced by the horrific material he consumed online, including a focus on a website that ranked mass murderers by “kill counts,” akin to a leaderboard in video games or sports, Westphal said. Minassian was also drawn to the notoriety other mass killers had, Westphal said.

One example of Minassian’s “bizarre” way of thinking came when he was asked by another psychiatrist if he would carry out the attack again if he were allowed out of jail, Westphal said.

“I guess I would do it,” Minassian said, according to a transcript of the interview read out in court. “I would be hoping to achieve another recognition or the fact there is another kill count.”

Minassian told the other psychiatrist he would only change one thing if he attacked again.

“I would have probably still gone ahead with it but made sure I would have died instead of being arrested,” he said.

Westphal said that Minassian “clearly, explicitly, states the wrongfulness of what he was doing,” but doesn’t truly comprehend his actions.

“It just doesn’t matter to him because he doesn’t understand that, or he doesn’t natively see because he has a really substantial defect in social development and a defect in empathic understanding of other people, that there is real human consequences, relatable human consequences to his actions,” the psychiatrist said.

Westphal, who specializes in autism, said there is no good explanation from Minassian about why he committed the attack.

Court has previously heard that Westphal found Minassian was not psychotic but had an autistic way of thiking that was “severely distorted in a way similar to psychosis.”

By Liam Casey