Almestadi tells court he was ‘confused’ and ‘paranoid’ during Totem Park attack

On Wednesday and Thursday, Thamer Almestadi — the former UBC student charged with attempted murder — testified as to his declining mental state before and during last year’s knife attack in the Totem Park residence. Amid increasing paranoia and confusion, Almestadi ultimately experienced a delusion that prompted him to try and kill fellow student Mary Hare, he testified.

During his two days on the stand, Almestadi answered questions mainly regarding his mental state in the weeks before the attack and the day of the attack itself. He testified extensively that he was experiencing paranoia and an inability to concentrate, as well as poor sleeping patterns and a decreased appetite — all of which started when he began classes at UBC in September 2016.

Since the beginning of the fall term, Almestadi testified that he started thinking his math professor was addressing him in particular when making comments to the entire room of 80 or more students. He also had thoughts when he was on his skateboard on campus that people were looking at him and talking about him.

He remembers actively deciding not to seek counselling help — which was recommended by his residence advisor at the time — because he thought that his stress levels were similar to those of his fellow students.

On October 4, he testifed that after a night spent studying without sleep, he was in math class when he once again thought that his professor made a comment directed at him.

Feeling confused and paranoid on the way to his next class, he thought he saw someone talking on the phone — he immediately assumed that the man was talking to his math professor or that his math professor had changed clothes and followed him. Shaken, he went back to his room and lay on the bed, listening to an audio track from the Quran that tells the story of a cow being sacrificed by a village on Moses’s command.

Artist's rendering of Madam Judge Margot L. Fleming
Artist's rendering of Madam Judge Margot L. Fleming Rory Stobart

According to Almestadi’s testimony, he became confused at this point and thought that the track was his own mind speaking. He said that he related several of the qualities of the cow in the story — its youth, for example — to Hare, and that prompted a “sense of urgency” that propelled him to go attack her.

In the days after the attack, he told the court, he wondered whether it was God telling him to attack her or a malevolent spirit, but now he realizes that it was his own confusion.

After getting a steak knife from a package he had recently purchased, he went to look for Hare, first outside the building where they first met, then down the hallway of the third floor of Salish House, searching for her name-tag. From there, his memory of the attack is spotty and scattered — but what he did recall for the court aligned with the story told by various witnesses, including Hare herself.

He said that he “did not consider” that killing Hare would have been morally wrong at the time, due to his confused state.

Almestadi had trouble producing more description of his mental state at the time of the attack than “confused” and “paranoid” even after repeated prompting from Crown counsel Daniel Porte — when Porte asked him how he felt when he reached Hare’s door, Almestadi said, “I can’t describe.”

At the end of his testimony, Porte asked Almestadi if he had anything to say to Hare, who was sitting with her mother. Almestadi turned to Hare and said, “I’m sorry Mary. I’m sorry. I really am.”

After Almestadi’s testimony, the court heard from Dr. Jeannette Smith, a forensic psychology and criminal responsibility expert called by defense counsel. She is one of four doctors to interact with Almestadi since the attack, first meeting with him on October 10 and multiple times since then.

During the first part of Dr. Smith’s testimony, the court heard that she has ruled out drugs as a potential cause of Almestadi’s symptoms. Tomorrow, Dr. Smith will continue to testify to her evaluation of Almestadi.

Follow along with live coverage at the @UbysseyNews Twitter. We’ll be releasing a recap article after each day of the trial.

—With files from Jack Hauen