Forensic officer testifies at former Halifax taxi driver's sexual assault trial
Aly Thomson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, January 7, 2019 11:24AM AST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2019 8:56PM AST
HALIFAX -- Photos of a handcuffed Halifax taxi driver and the vehicle where he allegedly sexually assaulted an intoxicated female passenger were shown at the former cabbie's high-profile retrial on Monday.
Bassam Al-Rawi faces a charge of sexual assault in a May 2015 incident, after an acquittal was overturned last January by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
Al-Rawi had been charged after an unconscious woman was found in the back seat of a cab naked from the waist down, her legs propped up on the two front seats. The acquittal, after the judge found there was no evidence of lack of consent, drew national attention.
As the retrial began Monday, the Crown's first witness was Det. Const. Marshall Hewitt, who worked in the Halifax police forensic identification section at the time.
Hewitt testified in Halifax provincial court that he photographed Al-Rawi, handcuffed behind his back, at a police station in the early hours of May 23, 2015. He said he took DNA swabs of Al-Rawi's hands, mouth and genitals.
"I noticed that his jeans were unbuttoned," Hewitt told Judge Ann Marie Simmons of what he saw when he first encountered Al-Rawi.
Hewitt, who now works in the general investigation section, held up clothing items that were seized from the suspect, including a white T-shirt, jeans and underwear.
He also described photos he took of the taxi, which was seized as part of the investigation.
"It appears that the front driver seat is reclined more than the front passenger seat," said Hewitt in describing a photo of the interior of the vehicle.
A pink cell phone, purse and a $20 bill were seized from the vehicle, and a condom and wallet were found inside its middle console, said Hewitt.
He also noted a hair in the back seat of the vehicle, and cut out portions of the upholstery where he believed there were stains.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Ian Hutchison, Hewitt agreed that the owner of the condom was never determined.
"(There's) nothing illegal about having a condom in a vehicle, is there?" Hutchison asked.
Hewitt replied: "No."
He also said Al-Rawi was not violent or aggressive during their encounter.
The officer is expected to return to the stand for more questioning when the retrial resumes Tuesday.
Al-Rawi -- wearing a dark suit, white collared shirt and a red tie -- took notes during proceedings Monday. He sat next to an Arabic interpreter, who will translate the proceedings for Al-Rawi when required throughout the trial.
Al-Rawi is also accused of sexual assault in an alleged 2012 incident. Police had decided in March 2013 there was insufficient evidence to charge him, but they took another look at the file in 2017 and decided there were grounds for a sexual assault charge.
Al-Rawi had previously moved to quash that 2012 charge, but Hutchison said Monday that his client no longer plans to move forward with the quashing attempt.
The cab driver was charged in the 2015 incident after police found a woman in her 20s passed out in his taxi.
Judge Gregory Lenehan's comment in his decision that "clearly, a drunk can consent" to sex sparked a national debate over intoxication and the capacity to consent to sex.
An independent judicial review committee last year dismissed several complaints against Lenehan, saying it found no evidence of impermissible reasoning or bias in his ruling.
But the appeal court ordered a new criminal trial, saying Lenehan erred in law by finding there was no evidence of lack of consent.