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Minassian has 'no emotional connection' to van attack, psychiatrist testifies

Last Updated Dec 2, 2020 at 9:20 am MDT

Alek Minassian, top, is seen during a police interview in a still frame taken from handout video footage. Hours after driving a rented van down a busy Toronto sidewalk killing 10 people and injuring 16 others, Alek Minassian described himself to police as a 25-year-old virgin seeking retribution for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women. The transcript and video of the police interview were released Friday following a successful legal challenge by several media organizations, including The Canadian Press, to have the publication ban lifted. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Superior Court of Justice, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

The man who drove a van down a busy Toronto street killing 10 people and injuring 16 more has “no emotional connection” to his actions, a psychiatrist hired by the defence testified on Tuesday morning.

Yale professor of psychiatry, Dr. Alexander Westphal, said Alek Minassian understands society’s rules, but doesn’t understand the horrific impact of his actions.

“He doesn’t have any emotional connection,” Westphal testified. “He doesn’t experience remorse or regret. There’s nothing. He describes (the killings) completely flat, devoid of any emotional context whatsoever. (He explains it) like if you or I were to (discuss) going shopping.”

The court saw clips of Minassian being questioned about the attack by Westphal. “It’s shocking,” Westphal said of Minassian’s retelling. “A clinical cold description.”

Minassian is “not celebratory, he’s not getting any enjoyment” out of describing the attack, he testified, adding that Minassian considered it a failure that he survived after trying to draw police gunfire by feigning that he had a gun.

Westphal is testifying on behalf of the defence, which hopes he’ll help bolster the argument that Minassian is not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions on April 23, 2018, due to autism spectrum disorder.

Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 of attempted murder.

He has admitted to planning and carrying out the attacks, with his state of mind at the time being the sole issue at trial.

Westphal added Tuesday that Minassian’s response to the killings have “the disassociated flavor of someone playing a video game. It’s as abstract as killing people in a video game … he still doesn’t have any emotional connection with what he did.”

When asked during his assessment with Westphal what his motivations for the attack were, Minassian denied that he was radicalized by the Incel movement and Elliot Rodger.

Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen during a 2014 shooting and stabbing rampage near the campus of the University of California. He later died by suicide.

When a doctor from Westphal’s team asks Minassian why he initially told police he was influenced by Rodger, Minassian said he was motivation was actually anxiety about starting a new job, but he thought citing Rodger would provide more notoriety.

Westphal added that he is deeply concerned about the impact certain websites and groups like the Incel movement have on vulnerable communities, including people with autism.

“The currency of these forums is hate, ugly dark humor, when you have someone who doesn’t understand these things …. it can be deeply concerning what we subject vulnerable people to.”

CityNews reporter Adrian Ghobrial is covering the trial, follow his tweets below:

Dr. Westphal, and multiple other forensic psychiatrists, have testified at the virtual trial that Minassian is not a psychopath.

Ninety per cent of NCR verdicts include a psychopathy diagnosis and often involve people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

But Westphal argued that there are overlaps between people with autism and schizophrenia.

“You’d be hard pressed to pick the differences between someone with autism or severe negative schizophrenia symptoms,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press