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Memorial University student acquitted of sexual assault

A provincial court judge delivered the verdict Monday morning in the case of a Memorial University student charged with the sexual assault of another student. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
A provincial court judge delivered the verdict Monday morning in the case of a Memorial University student charged with the sexual assault of another student. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)

Tears were shed in a St. John's courtroom Monday morning on both sides of the Plexiglas divider separating a Memorial University student accused of sexual assault and the family and friends of the complainant.

For the accused student, it was tears of relief as Judge Lois Skanes dismissed charges of assault, sexual assault and choking.

"The version of events in the bedroom are diametrically opposed," Skanes said as she delivered her verdict.

The male student met the complainant, who was 17 at the time, during her first week at university, in September 2022.

In an interview with CBC Investigates last April, the female student, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, said the sexual assault happened midday, just off campus, at the apartment rented by the male student.

She said he began kissing her, later pushing her to the bed, choking and putting weight on top of her. During a two-day trial in November, she testified she "couldn't breathe or speak" in that moment. At one point, she said, he spit on her face and tried to get his hand down her zippered pants.

When she said to stop, she alleges he said, "You don't want me to stop."

During his time on the stand, the accused told a similar story of the events before and after the alleged assault. However, he testified that all activities were consensual and denied pushing or grabbing her neck.

Both students told the court that she unlocked his bedroom door and left. The male student walked her back to the university centre, where she met up with her friends.

Photo evidence

The trial also heard from a number of police officers as well as the male student's roommate who was home at the time of the incident. Photos taken by police of marks on her body and text messages sent from the female student to her friends were also entered into evidence.

The roommate of the accused testified that the female student was laughing and didn't appear to be in distress after leaving the apartment.

Although the RNC photographed marks on the female student's body the same day, defence lawyer Iain Hollett said the marks were "not consistent with the level of force" described and that they could have been caused by clothing rubbing on her skin.

Both the accused and the complainant in a St. John's sexual assault case took the stand during a two-day trial in November.
Both the accused and the complainant in a St. John's sexual assault case took the stand during a two-day trial in November.

Both the accused and the complainant in a St. John's sexual assault case took the stand during a two-day trial in November. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Prosecutor Tim O'Brien, meanwhile, argued the photos show marks consistent with the complainant's testimony.

Skanes said both the complainant and accused "were candid and straightforward" and "neither was materially undermined" on cross examination.

"This is not a credibility contest," she said.

Ultimately, Skanes said she did not believe the accused spit on or choked the complainant, and as such, said the evidence raises reasonable doubt.

The judge dismissed all charges.

The complainant did not appear in person to hear the verdict but her friends and parents were in the courtroom, and were visibly upset.

"There's no justice here," her father said as he left the courtroom.

The male student also broke down in tears upon hearing Skanes' verdict.

It not yet clear if the Crown plans to appeal the decision.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 

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