A former British Columbia school teacher accused of sexually assaulting a Grade 7 student has been found not guilty on all charges.
Deborah Ashton faced five charges in connection with an alleged two-year affair, which the Crown had argued started in 2002 when the boy was 12 years old and Ashton was 37.
In her ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames said while the relationship between Ashton and the student went far beyond a teacher-student or coach-student relationship and there could have been a sexual relationship, there was not enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ashton broke down in tears and her supporters in the gallery broke out in cheers when the verdict was announced.
She left the courthouse without speaking to the media, but later she posted a statement on her Facebook page thanking her supporters.
"This acquittal means a great deal and the gratitude I have for the people who chose to look beyond the surface conclusions of more than one imperfect system can't be easily communicated," Ashton wrote. "Again, thank you to those who have quietly and steadfastly supported me and my family. We are forever grateful."
New decision follows hung jury
The alleged victim, now 22, had testified that he and Ashton had about 230 intimate encounters during the relationship, most of them involving sex acts.
The Crown also called a friend of the boy, who said he had seen Ashton and the boy rolling around together in a sleeping bag.
Ashton’s ex-husband told the court the couple’s marriage was crumbling about the time of the alleged affair, which was also about the time he said he found she had purchased thong underwear and condoms.
Defence lawyer Terry La Liberte called the allegations "character assassination," and pointed out inconsistencies and memory gaps in the alleged victim’s testimony, saying he had made up the whole story of the affair to impress his friends, but could not admit it now for fear of losing face.
La Liberte also called on Ashton’s brother and daughter to testify on her behalf, but Ashton herself did not testify. The trial, which started March 5 in Vernon, was heard by Justice Alison Beames without a jury.
Ashton’s first trial on the same charges in 2011 ended in a hung jury.