Alleged sex with student leads to 2nd B.C. trial

A second trial is underway for a female teacher in B.C.'s Okanagan accused of having a years-long sexual affair with student, starting when he was in Grade 7

A teenaged boy's girlfriend, his teammates and a local jeweller who is said to have engraved a bracelet meant as a gift to him will be witnesses in the second trial of a Vernon teacher charged with having a sexual affair with him a decade ago.

The first trial for Deborah Louise Ashton, 47, ended with a hung jury a year ago. The mother of two pleaded not guilty again Monday to the original three charges — invitation to sexual touching, sexual interference of a person under 14 and sexual assault — and to two new counts of sexual exploitation.

The relationship is alleged to have taken place between 2002 and 2005, starting when the boy was 12 and in Grade 7.

In his opening arguments Monday, Crown counsel Neil Flanagan said the witnesses in the case will also include Ashton's ex-husband.

But Vancouver defence lawyer Terry La Liberte, Ashton's second lawyer, said the evidence won't support the charges.

"It's character assassination," La Liberte told the court. "The fact that she's a great teacher and took her students on not corroborative of the issue."

"The issue is the credibility of the boy," said La Liberte.

Ex-husband to testify

During the first trial, the jury heard about Ashton spending time with the boy and other students outside of school, at the movies and on a basketball trip to Vancouver. The Crown said his witnesses will speak to these events again, and that Ashton's ex-husband's turn at the stand will help prove his case.

"There are some things I'm not sure of, but I am as sure as anything that the evidence of Mike Jellema is highly relevant in this case," said Flanagan, who suggested a breakdown in the marriage coincided with the alleged student-teacher relationship.

The trial, being heard by Supreme Court judge alone, is scheduled to run until March 16.

The court heard Monday from Bob Peacock, the former superintendent of Vernon School District No. 22, who was one of four people to receive an anonymous letter about the relationship.

He testified he asked to speak to Ashton inside her principal's office on June 3, 2008. Peacock said Ashton "denied that an incident took place."

"She made a comment to the effect that it was a tough year," said Peacock, who then drove to the high school where the student in question was pulled out of class. In another principal's office, Peacock asked the alleged victim about the letter and its description of a relationship between him and a teacher.

"Yes, it was sexual in nature," Peacock said, of the boy's response.

Police were called.