Details emerge in U.S. woman's appeal of sentence in Valentine's Day plot
Court documents claim it was unjust to expect the accused to prove she was remorseful
New court documents reveal details of how one of the masterminds of a foiled plot to attack a Halifax mall on Valentine's Day plans to appeal her life sentence.
Lindsay Souvannarath is serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years for plotting to kill shoppers at one of Atlantic Canada's busiest malls on Feb. 14, 2015 — four years ago Thursday.
The 27-year-old American conspired to throw Molotov cocktails into the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre and then open fire, planning to end the massacre by committing suicide.
Documents filed this week with the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal lay out four grounds for appeal, including that the sentence was excessive for a youthful offender with no record and that it reflected the range for terrorism offences rather than conspiracy to commit murder.
Court documents also claim it was unjust to expect the accused to prove she was remorseful and renounce her anti-social beliefs, and that the sentence was dramatically longer than that imposed on an accomplice.
Her main co-conspirator was found dead in his home on the eve of the planned attack, while a third accomplice, the so-called cheerleader of the plot, was sentenced to a decade in jail.
Plot began with online relationship
The plot — dubbed "Der Untergang," or The Downfall — was concocted after Souvannarath developed an online relationship with Halifax teen James Gamble.
They began an online relationship, sharing a fascination with mass shootings and exchanging explicit intimate photographs, according to court documents.
Then they began plotting an attack, talking about weapons, ammunition and maximizing the number of dead and wounded.
The pair discussed whether they would taunt the victims before killing them, and what body count they would be happy with. They planned to carry knives with them, and stab people when they ran out of bullets.
They agreed to post a video of the slayings online to solidify their fame among the world's mass-murderers, the court documents say.
Souvannarath flew to Halifax on a one-way ticket with $33 in cash.
The plot was averted when police received an anonymous tip. Gamble killed himself as police tried to arrest him, while Randall Shepherd and Souvannarath were arrested at Halifax's airport on Feb. 13, 2015.
Inspired by Columbine killings
"The three fancied themselves to be mass shooters and were inspired by the shootings at Columbine High School," the appeal documents filed this week said. "All three appear to have lived isolated lives with few friends, and spent most of their time on the internet."
Souvannarath's parents have said she was bullied in school, rejected by her peers and struggled with being biracial.
During sentencing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Justice Peter Rosinski said Souvannarath continued to pose a threat to public safety.
He said she had not expressed remorse for her murderous plot, nor had she renounced her ideological motivations. He called her prospects for rehabilitation "very questionable."
Rosinski said "she continues to maintain her intended actions were justifiable. She has not expressed remorse for her involvement in this conspiracy to murder multiple persons."
He recommended intensive psychological and psychiatric counselling and treatment.
Souvannarath's appeal suggests the judge committed an error by imposing a burden on her to prove she was remorseful.
'Crushing' sentence, lawyer says
In court documents, her lawyer, Peter Planetta, called the sentence "crushing," saying it risks snuffing out any chance of rehabilitation.
"It is well beyond the normal range of sentences in conspiracy to commit murder cases."
Planetta also suggested the judge erred by comparing the offence to terrorism cases, saying "terrorism is about more than carnage and killings, it is an assault on democracy and our institutions, our way of life."
Rachael Collins, a criminology professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax who teaches about mass murder, said Souvannarath could be at risk of recidivism unless she gets "massive counselling."
She said most school shooters, such as the Columbine killers, will commit suicide or are sentenced to hundreds of years.
"We don't have a lot of information about whether or not they will recidivate because they're never getting out," Collins said in an interview. "The question is what happens when somebody gets out?"
Collins says Souvannarath exhibits signs of extreme narcissism.
"She could be a sociopath," she says, noting that the term describes people with a lack of empathy often as a result of a trauma such as bullying, social isolation, being ignored and extreme loneliness.
"It's never one answer. It's compounding issues."