Computer glitches could delay trial for murder of Alek Minassian in Toronto van attack


Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

Posted Thursday, November 28, 2019 at 12:46 p.m. EST

Last updated Thursday, November 28, 2019 2:50 PM EST

TORONTO – Heavily encrypted digital devices belonging to the man who carried out the deadly Toronto pickup truck attack are causing problems for his own lawyer, the court heard on Thursday, which could delay the start of the murder trial in the first degree of Alek Minassian.

Minassian, of Richmond Hill, Ont., Made a brief court appearance on Thursday as the defense and the Crown finalize their case ahead of next year’s murder trial, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 10.

The court heard that defense forensic computer experts had barely managed to decipher Minassian’s devices, having gained access to them several months ago.

“I thought Mr. Minassian had the password,” said Judge Anne Molloy, who will preside over the case without a jury.

“It’s more difficult than that, Your Honor,” replied Boris Bytensky, Minassian’s lawyer.

The Crown and the defense have said the problems could delay the start of the trial by a week or two, but both said they were confident it wouldn’t take longer than that.

Minassian, 27, is charged with 10 counts of first degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in the incident on Yonge Street on April 23, 2018.

Minassian told police hours later he carried out the attack in retaliation for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women. Molloy said this summer the case would shed light on Minassian’s state of mind at the time – not if he was behind the wheel of the rental van coming up a sidewalk and crossing pedestrians.

Last month, the court ordered an in-custody assessment of Minassian’s mental condition, as requested by the Crown. Minassian will be evaluated at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto by Dr. Scott Woodside, according to documents filed in court.

At the same time, the Bytensky team will continue to scan their customers’ computers. He said experts hired by the defense found it difficult to operate the devices without the proper software, which is only available to law enforcement.

Minassian’s devices have long posed problems for the Crown, according to documents filed in court and unsealed after the media fought a sweeping publication ban requested by the defense.

Less than two weeks after the attack, police hired a third-party security company to crack Minassian’s phone, according to a police affidavit prepared by the detective. Christopher Sloan of the Toronto Police Technical Crime Unit in May.

The phone had “multiple layers of encryption” and a password, Sloan wrote, and appeared to contain custom encryption obtained by modifying its operating system.

Police also ran automated software continuously for eight months in an attempt to crack the password on Minassian’s Apple laptop, Sloan said.

“It is highly unlikely that the password will be discovered, using current methods, in a timely manner,” Sloan wrote.

Bytensky sought access to the devices, which the Crown fought against. Judge Molloy ordered the defense to be able to access the devices as long as they met certain conditions.

Minassian had just completed his final exam as a software development student the day before the attack.

The case will return to court on December 16.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 27, 2019.


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