After a second trial, Christopher Husbands was found guilty Tuesday of two counts of manslaughter in a 2012 mass shooting at Toronto’s Eaton Centre that left two dead, injured several others and sparked a panic at the downtown mall.
Jurors had spent six days deliberating whether Husbands, 29, was guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter or if he was not criminally responsible for the 2012 Eaton Centre shooting due to being in a “dissociative state” where his mind was not in control of his body.
The jury also found Husbands guilty of five counts of aggravated assault and guilty of on charge each of criminal negligence through the use of a firearm and reckless discharge of a firearm.
Husbands opened fire in the bustling mall food court at 6:22 p.m. on June 2, 2012, in the direction of a group of men including Nixon and Nisan Nirmalendran — brothers whom Husbands testified were part of a group who ambushed, beat and stabbed him three months earlier.
Surveillance video from the food court shows Husbands fired 14 shots, killing Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24.
Connor Stevenson, a 13-year-old who was at the mall with his mother and sister after seeing a show at a nearby theatre, was shot in the head but survived. Two shoppers were shot in the leg, two were grazed by the bullets. A pregnant woman was trampled in the ensuing chaos.
Husbands testified he saw Nixon Nirmalendran say “shoot him” and Nisan Nirmalendran reach as if for a gun.
Husbands said he then went into a dissociative state and was not in control of his body during the shooting as a result of severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Crown agreed he had post-traumatic stress disorder from his stabbing in February 2012, but argued Husbands was faking dissociation because the targeted shooting was a “complex act rather than automatic and routine.” Husbands used the loaded gun he had with him to take revenge on the men who harmed him months earlier, they argued.
There is no set sentence for manslaughter like there is for murder. The sentence can range dramatically. Husbands was previously facing a life sentence with no parole for 30 years after being convicted of 2nd degree murder after the first trial.
The manslaughter verdict could have come through two ways. Either they thought Husbands was provoked by Nixon Nirmalendran saying “shoot him” or Husbands had diminished capacity at the time of the shooting.
Husbands was found guilty on two counts of second-degree murder after a previous jury trial in 2014. Those convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal and a new trial ordered because the judge made an error in rejecting a defence request for a specific method of selecting jurors.
The second trial heard additional defence experts testify about PTSD and dissociation.
For a person to be found not criminally responsible, they must have a major mental disorder that made them either unable to appreciate the “nature and quality” of the act or incapable of knowing the act was wrong.
If a rare finding of not criminally responsible is made, the person is sent to a secure psychiatric facility for treatment indefinitely until they are no longer considered by the Ontario Review Board to be a danger to the public.
On Sunday, the jury asked four questions linked to the not criminally responsible defence, including whether Husbands could be deemed not criminally responsible if the jury found that Husbands could understand the nature and quality of just a few of the 14 gunshots he fired.
The judge responded that the jury should consider the defence theory.
There is no way to know which shots caused death and which did not, defence lawyer Dirk Derstine told reporters. He said he believes it’s not worth going “down that rabbit hole.”
The jury was told Husbands had been through a trial once before but they did not know that he was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.
Since the second-degree murder convictions were not cross-appealed by the Crown, Husbands could only be re-tried on charges of second-degree murder in addition to five counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of reckless discharge of a firearm.
With files from The Canadian Press
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati