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TORONTO – A man accused in a fatal shooting at Toronto’s Eaton Centre six years ago has been found guilty of two counts of manslaughter.
A jury also found Christopher Husbands guilty of five counts of aggravated assault, one count each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and reckless discharge of a firearm in the June 2, 2012 mall shooting.
Husbands, who had stood trial on the more serious charges of second-degree murder, admitted he was the shooter but his lawyers argued he should be found not criminally responsible due to mental illness.
Defence lawyer Dirk Derstine said his client was in a dissociative state as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder and did not have control over his actions.
He told the court Husbands’ PTSD was triggered by a chance encounter with some of the men who had brutally beaten and stabbed him more than 20 times in an ambush attack months earlier.
The Crown, however, argued Husbands sought revenge for the stabbing and carried out the shooting as a form of “street justice.”
Prosecutors acknowledged Husbands had PTSD but said he was in control throughout the attack, noting the doctors who assessed him were split on whether he experienced dissociation.
Court heard Husbands was at the Eaton Centre with his girlfriend and went to the food court after purchasing rollerblades and a jacket from Sport Chek.
A group of five men walked by him and Husbands pulled a gun from his satchel and fired 14 bullets in the crowded dining area, setting off a stampede as frightened shoppers ran for their lives.
Two men were killed in the shooting – prosecutors have said Ahmed Hassan, 24, died on the floor of the food court while Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, died in hospital nine days later.
Six others were hurt, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head and survived, and a pregnant woman who was trampled by fleeing shoppers.
Court heard Nirmalendran and Husbands used to be friends, but their relationship soured. Husbands testified he tried to mend fences but instead was attacked, stabbed and left for dead by a group that included Nirmalendran.
Defence lawyers said their client was traumatized by the attack and experienced paranoia, depression and constant hypervigilance, particularly in crowds.
Prosecutors said Hassan had nothing to do with the stabbing and was killed “by mistake” because of his proximity to Nirmalendran.
Jurors heard Husbands was previously tried in connection with the shooting but were not told the outcome or the reason for a second trial.
Husbands had initially been charged with first-degree murder but was convicted in his previous trial of second-degree murder. A new trial was ordered after Ontario’s highest court found the trial judge had erred in denying Husbands’ request regarding the method of jury selection.
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