British Columbia

New trial ordered for Victoria massage technician acquitted of sex assault

A B.C. judge has ordered a new trial for a Victoria massage technician accused of sexually assaulting two clients, writing that an earlier acquittal was at least partly based on faulty reasoning.

John Heintzelman is charged with assaults on 2 former clients

John Heintzelman is charged with the sexual assault of two women. (Robert Short/CBC)

A B.C. judge has ordered a new trial for a Victoria massage technician accused of sexually assaulting two clients, writing that an earlier acquittal was at least partly based on faulty reasoning.

John Heintzelman was found not guilty of two counts of sex assault earlier this year, following a trial in provincial court.

The judge in the original trial suggested that Victoria police had given away too much information in a news release seeking other alleged victims. He also wrote that he didn't have enough evidence about the impact one woman's mental illness might have had on her testimony.

But in a judgment issued Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Johnston wrote that the lower court judge's reasoning was faulty on both points, saying he had committed "errors of law."

"I am satisfied that the errors had a material bearing on both acquittals, and that verdicts would not necessarily have been the same if the errors had not been made," Johnston wrote.

Heintzelman was first arrested in the summer of 2017 after a client reported he'd fondled her breasts, inner thighs, buttocks and genitals during a hot stone massage.

Victoria police made a public plea that fall for "additional victims" to come forward, that inculded Heintzelman's name and the address of his in-home studio. A second woman contacted police the same day, claiming that Heintzelman had assaulted her during a 2013 massage.

The two women were of similar age, size and body type, and shared similar stories about what had allegedly happened. Both reporting unwanted touching during hot stone massages.

But at the close of Heintzelman's original trial, provincial court Judge Ted Gouge scolded the police department for its public notice, saying that by giving away Heintzelman's name and address, police had made it difficult to test the veracity of the second alleged victim's story.

Johnston said he had trouble understanding the lower court judge's logic.

"Given that identification was never in issue, nothing turned on where the assaults allegedly occurred, and there was no description of the manner of the alleged assault … any impact the media release might have on the reliability of [the second alleged victim] would have to be so slight as to be negligible," Johnston wrote.

He also took issue with Gouge's suggestion that he needed more information about the second complainant's mental health to determine the reliability of her evidence.

Johnston said there was no evidence to suggest the woman's mental illness had affected her testimony, and therefore it shouldn't have been a factor in the acquittal.

A new trial has yet to be scheduled for Heintzelman.

He has denied assaulting the two women. His wife has previously testified that she was sitting in the family's living room, directly above the massage studio in the basement, during one of the appointments and didn't hear anything unusual.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

now