The defendant’s lawyers argued that while Mr. Minassian understood his actions were illegal, his form of autism spectrum disorder made him incapable of feeling empathy, which they called a necessary component of rational decision-making.
A finding of not criminally responsible is uncommon in Canada and the majority relate to episodes of psychotic spectrum disorder or mood disorders. Some experts said that, despite the decision, the case had set new legal ground, as the government lawyers and the judge had conceded during the trial that this kind of defense could apply to a person with severe autism spectrum disorder, likely coupled with other disorders.
Advocates rejected that argument flatly. “Autism should never form the basis for a not criminally responsible finding in the court,” said Paul Finch, a board member with Autism Canada, an advocacy organization. “People on the autism spectrum empathize differently. We don’t lack empathy — our method is different and sometimes expressed differently.”
He added, “We are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes, not the perpetrators.”
The defendant, 28, never took the stand. All insights into his motives and state of mind came through the expert testimony of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who interviewed him after the crime and examined files taken from his family home.
During the trial, a complicated portrait of the defendant emerged: He grew up in a Toronto suburb, biking and bowling, and was intellectually advanced, but autism spectrum disorder socially stunted him, hindering his formation of close emotional bonds. He developed tics and was bullied, but had a loving family and a few friends.
And he was accomplished: A couple days before picking up the rental van to complete his grisly plan, he handed in the final assignment for his college degree in computer programming, and was set to start a software development job with a reputable company.