Jian Ghomeshi found not guilty on choking and all sex assault charges
Impossible to have 'sufficient faith' in the reliability or sincerity of complainants, judge says
Jian Ghomeshi will take time to "reflect and move forward" following his acquittal on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking by an Ontario court judge.
Ghomeshi, 48, and his lawyer Marie Henein had said nothing as they exited the courthouse following the ruling. But later Thursday evening, the former CBC Radio host's legal team released a statement.
It said that Ghomeshi has been rightly acquitted of the charges and that despite the unprecedented scrutiny and pressure, the case was determined on the evidence heard in a court of law.
"In our system of justice, that is what must happen in every case regardless of who is accused or what crime is alleged. That is precisely what occurred in this case," the statement said.
"This has been a very long, exhausting and devastating 16 months for Mr. Ghomeshi. He will take time with his family and close friends to reflect and move forward from what can only be described as a profoundly difficult period in his life."
The statement came hours after Judge William Horkins, in a searing rebuke of the complainants, said that their "deceptive and manipulative" evidence raised a reasonable doubt in the guilt of Ghomeshi.
Horkins said the evidence from all three not only suffered from inconsistencies, but was "tainted by outright deception."
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"The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth," Horkins said.
"I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants. Put simply, the volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence leaves the court with a reasonable doubt."
After Horkins delivered his ruling, Ghomeshi hugged his mother, sister and other supporters who sat behind him in the courtroom.
Outside the courthouse, as Crown attorney Michael Callaghan was set to respond to the ruling, a topless protester rushed the podium. She was handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser.
Horkins added that while the evidence in the case raises a reasonable doubt, it "is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened."
The trial, which began in Toronto on Feb. 1, 2016, lasted eight days. Ghomeshi had pleaded not guilty to all the charges, all related to assaults alleged to have taken place from 2002 to 2003.
The identities of two of the complainants in the case are protected under a publication ban, but actress Lucy DeCoutere, also an air force captain, went to court to lift the ban on her name.
The first woman to testify told court that Ghomeshi had pulled her hair and punched her in the head at his home after a dinner date. DeCoutere said the former Q host had choked and slapped her at his home. The third woman said Ghomeshi had squeezed her neck and covered her mouth while they were kissing on a park bench.
But it was later revealed in court that each woman had had contact with Ghomeshi following the alleged assaults and that details of this contact had not been provided to police or the Crown in their initial statements.
The first witness had told police and the court she had no subsequent contact with Ghomeshi after two alleged attacks but later acknowledged she sent him two emails and a picture of herself in a bikini more than a year later. The woman said she sent the emails to bait Ghomeshi into calling her to explain his actions.
"I suppose this explanation could be true, except that this spontaneous explanation of a plan to bait Mr. Ghomeshi is completely inconsistent with her earlier stance that she wanted nothing to do with him, and that she was traumatized by the mere thought of him," Horkins said.
DeCoutere had told the court that she had no romantic interest in Ghomeshi after her alleged assault and only saw him at industry functions. But it was later revealed in court that hours after the alleged sexual assault, she had sent him an email saying she wanted to have sex with him and sent him a handwritten letter days later saying she was sad they didn't spend the night together.
"I find as a fact that Ms. DeCoutere attempted to mislead the court about her continued relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi," Horkins said. "It was only during cross-examination that her expressed interest in a continuing close relationship was revealed."
The third woman, who told police she would only feel safe being out with Ghomeshi in public after her alleged assault, failed to disclose that days later, she had a consensual sexual encounter with him.
'Playing chicken with justice system'
Horkins said her disclosure of this fact just before she was set to testify showed that she was clearly "playing chicken" with the justice system. He said she "was prepared to tell half the truth for as long as she thought she might get away with it," had been following the proceedings more closely than admitted, "and she knew that she was about to run head first into the whole truth."
In his final argument, Crown attorney Michael Callaghan argued that the complainants had provided explanations for some of the inconsistencies, delayed disclosures or omissions in their evidence. He stressed that notwithstanding vigorous cross-examination, all three "were unshaken" in their allegations that they were sexually assaulted by Ghomeshi.
But Ghomeshi's lawyer seized on those omissions, saying their testimony was "so riddled with inconsistencies and improbabilities and proven lies under oath that it cannot be said to prove anything."
"Each complainant was confronted with a volume of evidence that was contrary to their prior sworn statements and their evidence," he said. "Each complainant demonstrated, to some degree, a willingness to ignore their oath to tell the truth on more than one occasion. It is this aspect of their evidence that is most troubling to the court."
In a statement, the CBC, which fired Ghomeshi in October 2014 after viewing what it said was evidence that he had physically injured a woman, said the judge's ruling today and a charge still before the court were unrelated to its decision to end Ghomeshi's employment.
Ghomeshi still faces another charge of sexual assault, with a trial scheduled for June.