Judge to review evidence in sexual assault case against Fredericton cab driver

A taxi driver's lawyer questioned the reliability of two women who allege they were sexually assaulted as passengers in his cab, suggesting in court today that the women may have identified the wrong driver.

2 women allege taxi driver sexually assaulted them as passengers on separate occasions

Bahman Babakhani, 48, is accused of inappropriately touching two women on separate occasions early on Sept. 3 and Sept. 8, 2016. (Viola Pruss/CBC)

A Fredericton taxi driver's lawyer questioned the reliability of two women who allege they were sexually assaulted as passengers in his cab, but he presented no new witnesses when the trial resumed Friday.

Bahman Babakhani, 48, is accused of inappropriately touching the women on separate occasions early on Sept. 3 and Sept. 8, 2016. His trial resumed in Burton court Friday morning with the Crown and defence presenting their closing arguments.

The women, 19 and 20, testified before Judge Jacques Desjardins in Fredericton court in late March. Neither woman can be named because of a publication ban.

The women testified that Babakhani had repeatedly touched their thighs while driving them home and told them they were beautiful.

The first woman said she was alone in the cab with the defendant the night of Sept. 3, while both women were in the taxi the night the second woman said she was assaulted.

Defence lawyer T. J. Burke said there were issues with the credibility and reliability of both women's statements.

They both identified Babakhani in court but during testimony, each woman said she was intoxicated the night of the assault against her and didn't clearly see the driver, Burke said.

They also told police the driver was Middle Eastern, based on his accent and complexion, but failed to mention  Babakhani's "most obvious" feature, which is that is bald, said Burke. The women also said the driver appeared short, and one woman said he had facial hair, while the other said he didn't.

"Neither one looked exactly at his face," Burke said, adding that the in-court identification has no value "because of the inconsistent testimony they provided to police."

Burke also questioned why the women deleted some text messages exchanged between them the night of the second incident. The women previously told the court they wanted to make the conversation fit the screen. One text referred to one of them trying to take a photo of the driver, while the other text read 'ha-ha.'

The Crown said the two women always called ABC Taxi when they needed a cab, and the company has many drivers. The night of the second incident, the woman from the first incident with the driver got into the back seat when the taxi arrived.

During March's trial, court also heard from the owner of ABC Taxi, the Fredericton company Babakhani was driving for at the time of the alleged assaults. Owner Rabih Alam said he received a complaint about a driver on Sept. 8 that was connected to Babakhani's cab.

His records also show that someone called the company with a complaint Sept. 3, though that person never called back to provide more details during regular business hours. He said his company's records, which are made on paper, can contain errors.

Babakhani had pointed to another driver, also from the Middle East, and Alam testified this driver worked both nights of the alleged assaults. Alam also said the other driver's accent was not as pronounced as Babakhani's and his grasp of English was better.

Burke said the investigating officer should have shown the women a photo of the other driver.

But Crown prosecutor Christopher Lavigne, in his closing argument, said the women were 100 per cent certain when they testified that Babakhani was the driver. He also said that it would have tainted the evidence if police had shown them photos of the other man.

"It's not 'Is it this guy or that guy?" Lavigne said.

As for suggestions raised by the defence that the first victim didn't defend herself, the Crown said the woman was small in stature. She did, however, send a text to her mother from the taxi that said: "He's scaring me."

Desjardins will now review the evidence and deliver his decision in Burton court on May 17 at 1:30 p.m.