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Prosecutors lay out case against man accused of killing Muslim family in London, Ont., as trial opens

In their opening statements, Crown prosecutors have laid out the evidence they'll present to the jury during the murder-terror trial of the 22-year-old man accused in the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in June 2021. The trial, expected to last eight weeks, got underway Monday in Windsor.

Murder-terror trial is being held in Windsor, Ont., and expected to last 8 weeks

A court sketch of a Crown prosecutor at a podium with three men in the background, including Nathaniel Veltman, a man accused of first-degree murder.

Crown prosecutors in a Windsor, Ont., courtroom have laid out the evidence they'll present to the jury in the trial of Nathaniel Veltman, the 22-year-old accused of killing a Muslim family in London in June 2021.

"Three generations of a family were out for a walk — a grandmother, a father, a mother and two children. They went to a park near their home and this would be their last walk together," Sarah Shaikh said Monday as part of the Crown's opening statements.

Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A nine-year-old boy survived.

Veltman was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder as well as associated terror charges after the June 6, 2021, vehicle attack on the Afzaal family. He's pleaded not guilty.

"Why did he do this? You'll hear him in his own words," Shaikh said in Ontario Superior Court, referring to the accused. "He made two statements to detectives after he surrendered and you will hear both of those statements. You'll hear him say that he did it on purpose … he said he did it because they were Muslim."

On the day of the incident, the two women in the family were wearing traditional Pakistani clothing, she added.

The reasons for the trial's change of venue to Windsor are under a publication ban. Jury selection was the week of Sept. 4.

Several friends of the Afzaals, as well as extended family, were in the Windsor courtroom to hear the opening statements. The trial is expected to last about eight weeks — shorter than originally anticipated because defence and Crown lawyers were able to agree to some facts that will not have to be disputed.

'Set aside biases'

Shaikh, one of four prosecutors on the case, told the jury that the defendant went to work on June 6, 2021, in Strathroy, Ont. Two weeks earlier, he'd purchased a Dodge Ram truck, court heard.

He later went home to his bachelor apartment in downtown London and "left before 8 p.m. with a specific purpose in mind: to find Muslims to kill," Shaikh said.

Jurors also heard that the accused told police he was inspired by others with similar political views, he wanted to inspire others, and police found two versions of a document, titled "A White Awakening," on his computer.

Before they heard from the Crown, jurors were reminded by Justice Renee Pomerance that their main job is to look at all the facts logically and with common sense.

"Every juror must be impartial. We all have beliefs and assumptions that inform our perception of our world and we may be aware of some of these biases and unaware of others," Pomerance said.

"We look at others through a lens of our experiences, no matter how unbiased we may think we are. All humans experience unconscious biases, but we can overcome them. It's not a character flaw, it's the function of being human. But stereotypes must have no place in our justice system.

"In this case, [the accused] is charged with various counts of first-degree murder. The Crown alleges that he set out to murder a family because of their Muslim believes. These are just allegations. The Crown must prove them beyond a reasonable doubt."

The trial is on a break for lunch. The first witness is expected to testify early in the afternoon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

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