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Sault man acquitted of rape after his accuser dies

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WARNING: This story contains details of sexual assault which may be disturbing to some readers.

A Sault Ste. Marie man has been acquitted of rape, in part, because his accuser passed away before the start of the trial.

As a result, the judge in the case was unable to ask the victim to clarify some of her statements, leaving enough reasonable doubt for an acquittal.

The trial was subject to several delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The incident itself happened June 16, 2018.

The woman and the accused did not know each other when they met by chance in downtown Sault Ste. Marie late in the evening. She got into his truck and they went to the Tim Horton’s drive-thru, where he bought them each a coffee.

“At some point, while the pair drove, (the accused) grabbed the complainant’s breast,” the Feb. 14 Superior Court of Justice decision said.

“He then drove to a nearby parking lot located at K.C. Roofing where the pair had sexual intercourse.”

Afterwards, the accused dropped her off at a nearby bar. She immediately borrowed someone’s phone to call 911 and report that she had been raped. She had grabbed his ID card from the truck and had it ready for police.

At hospital, a nurse performed a sexual assault kit, which revealed the presence of semen in her vagina and anus. Testing confirmed the semen belonged to the accused.

In her interview with police, the woman said she was an alcoholic who had been in and out of hospital for “detox.” She had just been released and was out for a walk when she met the accused.

He appeared drunk, she said, and during the ride, he tried to initiate sex by grabbing her breasts. She said that she got into the vehicle hoping to get weed and alcohol.

The woman said he pulled over at some point and they got out of the truck. He began masturbating before he “forced the complainant down and pulled her pants down,” the court decision said.

“The complainant was trying to get the conversation turned towards getting a drink. The accused would not listen. She remembered being pushed down, with his arm on her back. He ejaculated. She was in shock.”

During the preliminary hearing, the woman testified that she couldn’t remember if she or the accused pulled her underwear down.

“She remembers trying to pull her underwear back up and the accused would not let her,” the court decision said.

“When asked about her underwear, the complainant testified that ‘I may have taken them down willingly, but I tried to pull them up. That’s when he yanked them down.’ She then testified that ‘(he) didn’t rape me until after he pulled my pants down.’”

In his testimony, the accused said that he and his girlfriend had a fight that night, so got in his truck and went downtown with $40 intending to use it to pay for oral sex.

He drove around for a while before he saw the woman, who was standing near Church Street. He told the woman he wanted oral sex for $40, but the woman said she would have sex for $60.

“They agreed on $40, but she was not happy about the price,” the court decision said.

“The accused stated that they should grab a coffee at the Tim Horton’s.”

He testified that he paid for the coffee using part of the $40 he had with him to pay for sex. He then drove them to a parking lot he was familiar with, one where he knew there were cameras.

They both got out of the truck and he said the woman pulled down her pants and they had sex.

He denied having anal sex with her but said she became angry when he tried to pay her using the remaining bills and loose coins left over from buying coffee.

In his initial interview, the accused thought police were asking him about another complaint about him made by another woman.

When he realized who they were talking about, he initially lied about having sex with her.

“In his testimony, the accused indicated that he lied to police because he was scared of being arrested for criminal offences involving the sex trade as ‘lots of people have been charged with it in town,’” the court decision said.

In coming to his decision, the judge in the case wrote that he had trouble believing the accused. For example, he at first denied having sex with the complainant and that his explanation for his lie “did not have the ring of truth.”

“The accused stated that he lied to police because he was afraid to admit that he committed sex trade offences,” the court decision said.

“This statement is belied by the fact that the accused stated in his cross-examination that he took the complainant to an area where he knew there were cameras.”

The accused also denied having anal sex, despite forensic evidence that he did.

“Simply put, the accused lied to authorities and his evidence before me is sufficiently tenuous that I largely reject it,” the judge wrote.

“His evidence is not such that I am left in a state of reasonable doubt as a result of same.”

However, the woman’s testimony also had major issues. She admitted she was coming out of detox and was looking for weed and alcohol.

The judge said that the trauma of going through detox raises the possibility that “the complainant’s demeanor in the 911 call may not be consistent with being sexually assaulted.”

She also testified that the accused touched her breasts before they went to the Tim Horton’s drive-thru. But she also said she didn’t get out of the vehicle at Tim Horton’s because at that point, the accused gave her “no red flags” to alarm her.

“If the accused had engaged in non-consensual sexual touching prior to attending the Tim Horton’s, her explanation makes no sense,” the judge wrote.

“Non-consensual touching would surely have raised a ‘red flag.’ The red flag evidence is made more confusing because the complainant testified that she did not drink the coffee for fear it was ‘spiked.’”

Other inconsistencies include when she grabbed the ID card of the accused. At one point, she said she grabbed it after the assault so she could identify her attacker.

“In her preliminary hearing evidence, however, she also testified that she grabbed the identification prior to the sexual assault,” the judge wrote.

“She was firm about this latter fact. She also testified that she took the identification ‘for some strange reason,’ which further confuses the issue. This muddled testimony is therefore meaningful and causes me to question the complainant’s truthfulness.”

She was also unsure of whether she “willingly” pulled down her underwear. Because she died before the trial, follow-up questions that could have provided clarity didn’t happen, leaving lingering doubts.

Explaining the inconsistencies in her testimony was key in this case when determining guilt or innocence.

“Ultimately, the complainant’s evidence was sufficiently inconsistent regarding important aspects of the case such that I am uncertain as to what happened on the night in question,” the judge wrote.

“Ergo, I am in a state of reasonable doubt with respect to both instances of alleged sexual assault as captured by the indictment.”

Because was left with reasonable doubt, the judge said he had no choice but acquittal.

Read the full transcript here

Resources for sexual assault survivors in Canada

If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual assault or trauma, the following resources are available to support people in crisis:

If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, you should call 911.

A full list of sexual assault centres in Canada that offer information, advocacy and counselling can be found at ReeseCommunity.com. Resources in your community can be found by entering your postal code. 

Helplines, legal services and locations that offer sexual assault kits in Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia can be found here.

National Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

24-hour crisis line: 1-416-597-8808 

Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010 

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366

Sexual misconduct support for current or former members of the Armed Forces: 1-844-750-1648

Read about your rights as a victim here.

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