Man con­victed in Via Rail ter­ror plot seeks to ap­peal sentence

The Western Star - - Canada -

A man found guilty of plot­ting to de­rail a pas­sen­ger train be­tween Canada and the U.S. is seek­ing to ap­peal his sentence as well as his con­vic­tion, say­ing men­tal ill­ness pre­vi­ously kept him from mak­ing ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions about his case.

In an amended in­mate no­tice of ap­peal filed Wed­nes­day with On­tario’s top court, Chi­heb Esseghaier said his orig­i­nal no­tice tar­geted his con­vic­tion alone be­cause he was un­able to un­der­stand the sever­ity of his life sentence.

“At the time I filed that no­tice, I was very ill. I suf­fer from schizophre­nia,’’ he wrote.

“I was suf­fer­ing from delu­sions and be­lieved that I would die and my soul would as­cend to heaven on De­cem­ber 25, 2014. Be­cause of this delu­sion, I did not be­lieve that the life sentence im­posed was real and did not want to ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence or le­gal­ity of the sentence by ap­peal­ing it.’’

Esseghaier be­gan tak­ing an­tipsy­chotic med­i­ca­tion af­ter he was trans­ferred to a prison in Bri­tish Columbia and even­tu­ally re­al­ized the grav­ity of the sentence, he said.

He now lists four grounds for ap­peal, two of them re­lated to his men­tal state. He al­leges his men­tal ill­ness had an im­pact on his con­vic­tion and sentence, and goes on to ar­gue that he was un­fit to stand trial.

Esseghaier, a deeply re­li­gious Mus­lim, also al­leges an un­der­cover agent in­cited him to plan the at­tack by giv­ing him money and meals, and ar­gues he ought to have been judged by the rules of the Qur’an. He had de­manded through­out his le­gal process to be judged by the holy Is­lamic book.

The Tu­nisian na­tional is ask­ing the court to give him more time to launch his ex­panded ap­peal. Esseghaier and his co-ac­cused, Raed Jaser, were found guilty in 2015 on a to­tal of eight ter­ror­re­lated charges be­tween them.

They were sen­tenced to life in prison, with no chance of pa­role un­til 2023. Jaser is also ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion.

Con­cerns about Esseghaier’s men­tal state were raised dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing phase of his trial.

Two psy­chi­atric as­sess­ments found he likely had schizophre­nia but Esseghaier, who re­fused a lawyer and rep­re­sented him­self at trial, dis­agreed with the find­ings and one of the psy­chi­a­trists who as­sessed him still found him fit to be sen­tenced.

Jus­tice Michael Code, who presided over the case, was asked to post­pone sen­tenc­ing un­til it could be de­ter­mined if Esseghaier could be treated but the judge re­fused, say­ing there was “no causal link’’ be­tween Esseghaier’s men­tal state dur­ing sen­tenc­ing and his be­hav­iour at the time of the of­fences.

Dur­ing Esseghaier and Jaser’s trial, a jury heard that an un­der­cover FBI agent gained the men’s trust and sur­rep­ti­tiously recorded their con­ver­sa­tions, which made up the bulk of the ev­i­dence in the case.

CP PHOTO

Chi­heb Esseghaier ar­rives at But­tonville Air­port just north of Toronto on Tues­day, April 23, 2013.

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