Julian Gojer

What the jury didn’t hear: ‘Not-criminally responsible’ defence of Eaton Centre shooter sprung midway through trial

Defence attorneys in the Eaton Centre murder trial caught the Crown off guard when they unveiled a doctor’s report midway through the trial that alleged their client was in a dissociative state when he shot seven people two years ago.

The surprise medical opinion, used to support a defence of “not criminally responsible” prompted Crown Attorney Mary Humphrey to ask for a significant delay in the trial, one the judge in the case rejected out of hand.

Jurors in the first-degree murder trial began their deliberations Tuesday. In his final instructions, Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk told the jury to choose between two starkly different accounts of the mass shooting.

In the Crown version, Christopher Husbands, the defendant, carried out a deliberate, planned assassination in an act of street justice that served as his revenge for an earlier attack.

In the defence account, Husbands, suffering from “crippling anxiety” and “incapacitating post-traumatic stress disorder,” killed two people and wounded five others after slipping into a state of “authentic dissociation.”

What the jurors didn’t know, however, is that Husbands’ attorneys sprung the “not-criminally responsible” defence on the Crown midway through the case. His lead attorney, Dirk Derstine, made no mention of PTSD in his opening statement. And the Crown had no expert ready to refute the doctor’s report when it appeared.

That led to a mini-crisis in the middle of the two-month trial. After consulting one expert witness, Mrs. Humphrey told the judge she would need a delay of at least several weeks before she could produce a credible second opinion on Husbands’ mental state.

Mr. Ewaschuk, however, refused to grant any significant break. Even after Mrs. Humphrey relayed her expert’s opinion that no responsible medical professional would perform an assessment in the time frame available, Mr. Ewaschuk refused to budge.

Eventually, the Crown found two doctors willing to testify. Both disagreed with defence expert Dr. Julian Gojer, who testified that Husbands entered a dissociative state brought on by PTSD in the Eaton Centre on June 2, 2012.

Husbands shot and killed two men in the busy food court that evening. His stray bullets wounded five others.

During the trial, the Crown argued the shooting was an act of revenge against men who had beaten, bound and stabbed Husbands months earlier. The defence contended that Husbands, a fragile wreck after the earlier attack, went into a trance when he randomly ran into his attackers in the Eaton Centre food court.

Husbands faces two counts of first-degree murder, five others of aggravated assault and another of criminal negligence causing harm. On the murder charges, the jurors also have the option of finding him guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.