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Man accused in London attack smiled multiple times during arrest, trial hears

London police detective Micah Bourdeau, left, is seen speaking on a video monitor as accused Nathaniel Veltman, front centre left, Justice Renee Pomerance (on screen at top centre left), defence lawyers Peter Ketcheson and Christopher Hicks, right, look on in a courtroom sketch, in London, Ont., Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

A man accused of murdering four members of a Muslim family in Ontario was seen by police smiling "like he had good news" throughout his arrest, his trial heard Friday.

Nathaniel Veltman, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ont. 

Prosecutors have alleged Veltman's actions in June 2021 amount to an act of terrorism.

Const. Patti Leavoy-Costa, who was among the first London police officers to arrive at the parking lot where Veltman was located, told jurors she saw Veltman continuously "yelling, screaming, smiling, laughing" and "causing a scene" while being arrested and searched. 

"There was multiple times that he appeared to be smiling," between his other actions, said Leavoy-Costa.

Despite Veltman being at a constant "excitable level" during his arrest, Leavoy-Costa said she never sensed sadness or anger, describing his behaviour as "joyous." She also described him as "tense" and "stiff, like his muscles were clenched up."

Leavoy-Costa testified that when she first arrived at the parking lot of the mall where Veltman was arrested and saw other officers were handling him, she turned off his truck and noticed it was "steaming" from the front hood, which had extensive damage.

Det.-Const. Matthew Hietkamp, who arrived at the scene after Veltman had already been handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser, also testified that he observed Veltman, who was wearing a camouflage vest and an army-style ballistics helmet, as "happy, smiling, looking around" and giddy "like he had good news."

Hietkamp said he was assigned to trail the police car Veltman was in to London police headquarters and while stopped at a traffic light, he again saw the accused displaying similar behaviour en route.

"I noticed that he was again smiling, looking around at the cars that were stopped beside us, looking at them, smiling around," he said.

Once processed at police headquarters, Hietkamp testified he searched Veltman again and found a small, empty knife sheath on his belt. Veltman was wearing a white T-shirt with a cross spray-painted on it and steel-toe boots, he said.

Veltman's defence lawyer Christopher Hicks suggested there were inconsistencies in Leavoy-Costa's notes taken during her shift when Veltman was arrested and asked if her testimony Friday was "misremembered in some way," to which the officer replied, "I don't think that's fair to say." She noted it was a "chaotic scene" and she had more important things to do other than time-stamp specific observations during Veltman's arrest, though she updated her notes before ending her shift hours later.  

Hicks also questioned Hietkamp's ability to see Veltman's facial expressions from another cruiser that was two or three car-lengths away. But Hietkamp was steadfast in his observation.

The jury previously heard that Veltman had been talkative during his first interview, but became quieter and more subdued over time at the police station where he was held. In a second interview, he declined to answer questions about specifics or topics that appeared difficult for him to talk about, a detective said.

The trial has seen video of Veltman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, speaking with Det. Micah Bourdeau, saying he was "shaken up" after the attack.

Jurors have also seen video of Veltman telling the detective he felt relieved after carrying out the attack, which he said was motivated by white nationalist beliefs. The jury heard Veltman felt depressed in the past and had ingested magic mushrooms one day before the attack.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack. The couple's nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.

An agreed statement of facts presented to the jury has said Veltman was driving his truck north on Hyde Park Road in London when he saw the Afzaal family and made a U-turn to drive south towards them. Two women in the Afzaal family were wearing traditional Pakistani clothes at the time of the attack.

Veltman accelerated as he approached the family, and data from his truck show he steered to the right just five seconds before striking them, the statement said.

The trial heard that Veltman then drove his heavily damaged truck into an almost empty mall parking lot a few minutes after the attack and asked a nearby cab driver to call 911, saying he had intentionally struck several people.

The trial, which is taking place in Windsor, Ont., is expected to last eight weeks and will return Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press

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