Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Man imprisoned on false accusations acquitted almost 20 years later

From the Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON - An Edmonton man who has already served “every minute” of an eight-year sentence for sexually assaulting his young stepson has now been acquitted.

In a decision released Monday, the Court of Appeal of Alberta acquitted the 47-year-old man because the boy later recanted and said his biological father forced him to lie during a 1994 custody dispute.
In a special commission hearing held last year, the boy, who was nine at the time and is now an adult, testified that allegations of sexual abuse and rape against his stepfather were completely false.
“It is not the truth,” he said. “The truth is he did not do any of that.”

The court allowed the man’s appeal of his 1995 convictions and, because Crown prosecutors would stay the charges in any new trial, an acquittal was ordered.

“It is obviously not the fault of the appellant that he was convicted based on unreliable evidence,” the appeal court decision reads. “Nor is it any criticism of the Crown prosecutor, defence counsel, or the trial judge; it is merely a reflection of the fact that while the Canadian legal system is very good, it is not perfect.”

Neither the man, a local truck driver, nor the boy can be named because of a court-ordered publication ban.

The boy was five when his parents separated in January 1989. In the next two years, his biological father left for Saskatoon and his stepfather moved in with him and his mother. In June 1992, the boy went to visit his father in Saskatoon for the summer. The biological father later refused to send his son home.

The boy’s parents then began to go through divorce proceedings and a custody battle.

In the fall of 1993, the nine-year-old boy made allegations that his stepfather had sexually assaulted and raped him while they lived together in Edmonton.

Last year, the stepson, now in his late 20s, said his father held a knife to his throat in the laundry room of their Saskatoon home and told him to accuse his stepfather. His biological father was angry, court heard, because his sons referred to their stepfather as “daddy.”

The father coached his terrified son on the false accusations and sexual details for 90 minutes, according to testimony. The boy added explicit details to his accusations that he learned from a pornographic magazine.

“When I was a kid and these allegations came up, I was threatened, and as a kid you do what your parents tell you to do,” the stepson testified before the special commission. “You are young, and you don’t know right from wrong. And when your parent threatens you, you basically just do what you’re told.”

The boy first told his stepmother the lies, then later the Saskatoon police.

At the special commission, University of British Columbia psychology professor John Yuille said he watched the Saskatoon police interview videotape and was not impressed. The officer conducted the interview “extremely poorly,” Yuille said, because he always seemed convinced the child told the truth. The accusation was full of vague answers and absent detail, Yuille said.

During a 1993 Christmas visit in Edmonton with his mother and stepfather, the boy came out of his room crying and apologizing to the couple.

“He said he was sorry for saying that stuff and apologized,” the stepfather testified to the special commission in April.

At the time, charges had not been laid and the stepfather wasn’t entirely sure what the child was talking about, court heard.

In January 1994, the boy testified to the abuse at his parent’s custody hearing and was placed with his father.

A month later, the stepfather was charged with sexual assault. At the trial, the boy again testified against his stepfather. During cross-examination, the boy was asked about recanting his story, but he “held firm.”

In February 1995, the stepfather was sentenced to eight years in prison. He served “every minute,” according to the appeal court, because he denied responsibility.

“You have refused all program or treatment interventions stating that you have no faith or trust in the ‘system’ and that given your ‘innocence’ regarding your convictions, you see no benefit,” the Parole Board of Canada told him in 2000.

While the stepfather served time, the boy’s biological father returned him to Edmonton in February 1998. Now living with his mother, the boy told her he’d lied about the abuse allegations.

In March 2000, as his stepfather was denied parole, the 15-year-old boy signed a statutory declaration that the allegations were false. The admission had no impact on the stepfather’s term and he was released in January 2003 after his full sentence ended.

Three months later, the stepfather and the boy’s mother rekindled their relationship and moved in together. The boy, then an adult, lived with them. He felt incredibly guilty, the stepfather recalled, and the relationship was distant at first.

Now, court documents state, the former accuser allows his stepfather and mother to babysit his six-year-old child.

In 2001, the stepfather applied to the federal minister of justice for a ministerial review of his convictions. Minister Rob Nicholson referred the case to the Court of Appeal of Alberta to determine if the boy’s recanting counted as fresh evidence.

Special Commissioner Ernest Marshall presided over the review and submitted his report to the appeal court in June 2012.

“Consideration of this testimony gives rise to a reasonable inference that the allegations were false and the recantations were correct,” Marshall wrote.

The boy’s biological father testified and denied he had coerced his son. Marshall was undecided on whether the man told the truth.

“It seems to me that the full truth of the alleged threats to the complainant by his father may never be known,” he wrote. “I am not prepared to make a finding on this issue.