Sunday, March 29, 2009

A life on hold for two years finally breathes easy -- man cleared of sexual assault amid "clear" evidence of "imagined events"

Ex-Argo acquitted of sexual assault
'Nerve-racking' experience, says Williams

Shannon Kari, National Post Published:

A relieved former Toronto Argonaut hopes to move forward with a coaching career after he was acquitted yesterday of sexual assault by an Ontario Superior Court judge.

"It has been nerve-racking," said Bernard Williams, 36, outside a Toronto courthouse following his acquittal. "This has been hanging over my head."

Williams, a former first-round NFL draft pick, played on Toronto's offensive line from 2003 to 2006.

Superior Court Justice John Macdonald issued a strongly worded decision that referred to Williams as an "impressive" witness and suggested the alleged victim fabricated some of her testimony.

"There is clear evidence of invention or imagined events," said Judge Macdonald.

In contrast, the denials by Williams of any wrongdoing were "unshaken" by the evidence, said the judge.

The 23-year-old woman testified . . . that she was woken out of a drunken stupor in August, 2006, to discover Williams engaged with her in sexual intercourse.

"She was not delusional," insisted prosecutor Patrick Travers in his closing arguments. "It is ridiculous to say she imagined a phantom penis inside of her."

There was no forensic evidence to back up the woman's claim of being sexually assaulted and the judge agreed with the suggestion by defence lawyer John Struthers there was a "boatload" of reasonable doubt.

"In her drunken semi-conscious state, she formed false conclusions of very doubtful reliability," said the judge, who presided over the trial without a jury.

The judge heard that Williams and then-teammate Jonathan Brown went to the home of the woman's friend Ashley Bonar, who was an Argos cheerleader, after drinking at a downtown Toronto bar.

The Argos went to the bar following their annual "Stop the Violence" charity golf tournament.
The woman admitted she had at least 20 drinks that night, including Martinis, tequila and several "Sex on the Beach" shots.

Much of her testimony was contradicted by Bonar, who said the woman was flirtatious at the bar and asked male customers to touch her breasts to see if they are "real."

Bonar testified that she had consensual sex with Mr. Williams that night. Her friend was ill from drinking so much and tried to throw up before going to bed.

Williams testified that he heard a noise while going to the bathroom and went to the woman's room. He saw that she had fallen on the floor and went to put her on her bed.

The woman admitted that when she awoke in a startled state to see Williams, she started shouting racial epithets and called him a "disgusting n----r" on two occasions.

Williams, who lives in Georgia with his wife, who is a lawyer and a prosecutor, is presently coaching high school football. He stated that his coaching career has been hampered over the past two years while he was awaiting his criminal trial.