N.S. court rejects appeal of man convicted of sexually assaulting wife
Michael MacDonald, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, January 30, 2017 3:13PM AST
Last Updated Monday, January 30, 2017 6:47PM AST
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's highest court has dismissed an appeal by a man convicted of sexually assaulting his common-law wife, in an unusual case that garnered national attention when the victim asked the court to lift a publication ban on her name so she could speak out about her ordeal.
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, in a decision released Monday, rejected Jared Peter Beck-Wentzell's claim that the original trial judge misunderstood evidence and failed to consider a key defence argument.
During his trial, Beck-Wentzell's lawyer argued his client should be declared not guilty because the young man had an honest but mistaken belief that his wife had consented to sex in their home in Bridgewater, N.S.
Shannon Graham testified she awoke when Beck-Wentzell entered their bedroom late on July 12, 2014, and she told him she was not interested when he started to remove her pyjamas and indicated that he wanted to have sex.
She told the court he continued to sexually assault her while she tried to shove him away and repeatedly said "no," from "the beginning right 'till the end."
Beck-Wentzell testified that he and Graham were "making out," and he told the court he didn't "force her into anything."
On Jan. 22, 2016, Beck-Wentzell was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but he was released five months later, pending his appeal. That hearing was held late last year.
In August 2016, Graham said she regretted going to police, and she described her two-year journey through the court process as a punishing ordeal that left her feeling "like a piece of evidence" and less than "an actual human being."
"I got what most people hope to get -- I got the conviction," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "And yet, he's out free. I sit there and I go, 'What was any of this for?"'
Graham said she had no voice or advocate during the trial. And she said she felt muzzled by the publication ban because it prevented her from responding to what she called "trash talk" in her small community.
Experts have said Graham's experience is far from unique. While advocates urge victims of sexual violence to bring their complaints to the authorities, they acknowledge that the grind of the criminal justice system can dredge up past traumas, and even create new ones, with no guarantee of a favourable outcome.
On Nov. 10, 2016, Beck-Wentzell told the appeal court that during the trial he testified that he did have intercourse with Graham, but as soon as she said no, he immediately stopped. He told the appeal court that the trial judge had wrongly concluded he had denied having intercourse with Graham.
As a result, the trial judge made an "adverse credibility finding" against him, Beck-Wentzell argued.
However, the three-judge appeal court panel unanimously concluded that Beck-Wentzell's claim was not credible.
"This is not a case where the accused clearly and equivocally stated that sexual intercourse had taken place, and the trial judge equivocally found that he denied it occurring," the decision says. "Here, the trial judge did not misapprehend the evidence. Rather, he did what he could to assess the appellant's vague and contradictory testimony."
In a written decision, Justice Cindy Bourgeois said whether or not intercourse took place was not central to the case.
"In my view, the central issue for the trial judge to determine was not the type of sexual activity which was occurring, but whether it continued once Ms. Graham expressed her unwillingness to participate," she wrote.
As well, the top court rejected the argument that Beck-Wentzell had an honest belief that his wife had consented to sex.
"At no time in his evidence did the appellant allege that he believed Ms. Graham was consenting to sexual activity," the decision says. "Nor was there an explanation offered as to how the situation was sufficiently ambiguous that the appellant held the honest belief Ms. Graham was in agreement with the sexual contact continuing."