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Judge tells Abdulahi Sharif’s jury to approach attempted murder charges with ‘great deal of caution’

Click to play video: 'Jury deliberation underway in Abdulahi Sharif’s trial' Jury deliberation underway in Abdulahi Sharif’s trial
WATCH ABOVE: A jury is now deciding whether Abdulahi Sharif is guilty of trying to kill Const. Mike Chernyk and four pedestrians run down by a U-Haul two years ago. The trial has seen three weeks of testimony. Now that the jury is deliberating, we are allowed to report on the issues that were never presented to the jury. Fletcher Kent has those details. – Oct 24, 2019

The jury in Abdulahi Sharif’s trial is now deliberating, after being told by Justice Paul Belzil that it needs to approach two of the five attempted murder charges with a “great deal of caution.”

Sharif faces 11 charges, including five for attempted murder following a ramming and stabbing of Edmonton police Const. Mike Chernyk and a subsequent U-Haul rampage through downtown Edmonton two years ago.

On Thursday morning, Belzil instructed the jury on what legal questions they needed to consider.

READ MORE: Crown says Abdulahi Sharif wanted to cause ‘as much chaos’ as possible during Edmonton attacks

Belzil explained it isn’t enough for the Crown prosecutor to prove Sharif drove the vehicle that struck the five people, or that he wanted to hurt them. The Crown must prove he intended to kill them.

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“You must approach the issue that the accused intended to kill Jack Zubick and Paul Biegel with a great deal of caution,” Belzil said.

The two men were struck in an alley next to The Pint downtown. During the trial, court heard testimony the U-Haul sped around the corner at Jasper Avenue and 109 Street. One witness described seeing the truck tip a bit as it made another hard right into the alley. Another witness said the vehicle appeared out of control.

Belzil said an attempted murder conviction requires proof that the driver saw the two men and intentionally drove the truck into them in order to try kill them. He noted some evidence could raise questions for the jury.

“The photos make it clear that any driver… would not be able to see the alley until the turn was virtually complete.”

READ MORE: Accused ‘wanted to kill people’ the night of Edmonton vehicle attacks: Crown

In addition to the five counts of attempted murder, the jury will also decide if Sharif is guilty of four counts of flight from police causing bodily harm, one count of aggravated assault and one count of dangerous driving.

The jury has three weeks of testimony to consider during its deliberations but there is a lot of information that was never put to jurors.

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On the night of the crimes, then-police chief Rod Knecht said an ISIS flag was discovered inside the white Chevy Malibu that struck Chernyk outside of Commonwealth Stadium. That vehicle was registered to Abdulahi Sharif.

Knecht told reporters the next day, “based on the evidence at the scenes and the actions of the suspect, it was determined that these incidents are being investigated as acts of terrorism.”

That same day, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand confirmed that police investigated a complaint alleging Sharif “espoused extremist ideology.”

Sharif was arrested for participation in a terrorist act and commission of an offence for a terrorist group. Degrand did not say exactly why they thought the crimes were terrorist acts.

“It’s the totality of the information, the actions of the suspect and the evidence which we will later on have to lead in court,” he said in 2017.

None of that information was ever led in court. Sharif was never charged with any terrorism-related offences. Police and prosecutors have never explained why they chose the charges they did.

READ MORE: ‘I saw him get hit and fly’: Sharif trial hears from couple who witnessed Edmonton officer attacked

Two months after the crimes, Global News spoke to a University of Alberta law professor about the reasons for and against laying such charges.

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Steven Penney said terrorism-related charges can be difficult to prove. They may complicate an otherwise serious, straightforward case.

“So adding terrorism charges on top of that doesn’t necessarily give you any greater punishment or benefit from the prosecution’s perspective. So that may be something that may be going on here,” said Penney in 2017.

Global News is also now able to describe what happened during Sharif’s trial while the jury was not present.

Sharif has had three lawyers since he was arrested but has dismissed them all. He chose to represent himself at his trial.

READ MORE: Independent lawyer appointed to help with Edmonton attacks case

Over the three weeks of evidence, Sharif said almost nothing.

After every Crown witness, the judge dismissed the jury and asked Sharif a series of questions. He asked if he wished to speak to a court appointed lawyer. He asked if he wished to question the witness. Belzil even suggested topics upon which Sharif may wish to question each witness.

Through an interpreter after every question, Sharif only said no.

The accused was given a chance to make closing arguments. He chose not to do that.

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One of Sharif’s former lawyers expressed concerns over how his client acted.

“It appears to me there certainly may be issues that pertain to mental health,” Karanpal Aujla said during Sharif’s bail hearing.

Sharif spent time in Alberta Hospital while doctors performed exams to see if he was fit to stand trial and if he may have been “not criminally responsible.”

The reports showed he was fit to stand trial and that he was not eligible to apply for an NCR designation. However, after the reports were released, Aujla expressed surprise.

“The mental health issues that were found don’t necessarily raise to the level of NCR but I was definitely surprised because I definitely did think there would be significant mental health issues.”

The jury will not deal with any of those issues but what’s left for them may be challenging enough. They have to figure out first if the accused committed the acts and, if so, did he “intend” to kill.

It’s a task that requires trying to understand a man who has yet to say anything.

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