Edmonton·Exclusive

Edmonton judge considers if violent sex offender should be imprisoned indefinitely

An Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench justice is being asked to decide if Ashton Natomagan, 37, should be declared a dangerous offender.

Ashton Natomagan's childhood marked by violence, alcohol and sexual abuse, psychological reports say

The Crown is seeking to have Ashton Natomagan declared a dangerous offender. (Edmonton Police Service)

Ashton Natomagan is an angry man.

At 37 years old, the longest period he's experienced as a free man is four months.

Natomagan has sexually assaulted three females: a child, a teen and an adult. All three were strangers to him. He choked two of his victims until they were unconscious. In two cases, the attacks began with a robbery and, when the violence escalated, he became sexually aroused.

The Crown argues Natomagan is a dangerous offender and should be locked up indefinitely.

But as his hearing resumed last week in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench, Natomagan's defence team is arguing otherwise.

Eventually, Justice Terry Clackson will have to decide if he will do what a Saskatchewan judge opted not to: put Natomagan behind bars until he's no longer deemed a risk to the public.

To help him decide, Clackson will consider a number of expert reports. The Crown has presented its psychological and psychiatric assessments.

Last week, the defence called two expert witnesses, one who wrote a psychological assessment of Natomagan and another who authored a Gladue report that considers Natomagan's Indigenous heritage.

While Natomagan agreed to be interviewed by the writers of the reports for the defence, he refused to meet with the psychiatrist and psychologist appointed by the Crown.

Violent and abusive childhood

The four reports paint a disturbing picture of Natomagan's childhood and adolescence.

He was the second youngest of four siblings.

Until his youngest sister came along, Natomagan was "doted on" by his mother. In an interview with defence-appointed psychologist Les Block, Natomagan's mother called him, "my big fat baby." 

When she gave birth to a daughter five years later, "Ashton was thereafter neglected, but regularly sought her attention and love," Block said.

Block believes the inconsistent parenting contributed to Natomagan's sense of insecurity.

Natomagan's family lived in a dry community in Saskatchewan. His father ran a bar and bootleg operation out of his basement. There were regular drinking parties and frequent fights.

Drunkenness, violence and abuse were regular fixtures of Natomagan's childhood and adolescence.

A presentence report prepared in 2000 said Natomagan first tried alcohol at age seven and would steal alcohol from his parents while they were drinking. He also admitted he began using drugs at age 10 and selling them when he was 15.

No support

Natomagan discussed his alcoholism and addiction during a 2014 psychological assessment which stated, "He says he knows that he should stay away from drugs, but talked about how it is difficult when he has no plans or supports in the community.

"He often resigns himself to a fatalistic outcome for his life with little or no hope and then returns to using drugs, knowing full well his risk for criminal behaviour will likely escalate."

Natomagan was also abused by his father. According to Block's report, "Father, a violent, abusive parent, apparently choked, slapped, punched and kicked Ashton on different occasions."

Natomagan reported seeing his father repeatedly abuse his mother. When he was five years old, Natomagan said he saw his dad "choking out" his mother and called police.

He said officers arrived, but refused to do anything unless she made a complaint.

"He described this incident as a pivotal moment for him where he no longer trusted the police or relied on their help," the Gladue report said.

Natomagan also told correctional service assessors in 2004 that his older brothers were physically abusive toward him. In a 2009 psychiatric assessment, he revealed "his brothers held him underwater until he experienced difficulties breathing."

All the reports describe Natomagan's history of sexual abuse.  

According to an assessment prepared by psychologist Debra Jellicoe, Natomagan "reported that his first sexual experience occurred when he was six or seven years old."

He claimed a much older babysitter touched him and attempted intercourse. Natomagan has also told various mental health professionals he was sexually abused by a family member and by a group home staff member.

Long criminal history

Natomagan's first criminal conviction was in 1995 when he was 13 years old. After that, he spent most of his adolescence in juvenile custodial facilities. Of his 24 convictions as a youth, most were for property-related offences and none for violence.

His 42 convictions as an adult include sexual offences and violent assaults. In October 2017, Natomagan was convicted of robbery, overcoming resistance, kidnapping and sexual assault with a weapon.

He attacked a woman out jogging in central Edmonton by grabbing her from behind and choking her until she lost consciousness. She was a stranger.

So was the 11-year-old girl he sexually assaulted in 2002, whom he also choked to the point of unconsciousness.

Six years later in Prince Albert, Sask., he attacked a 16-year-old girl in daylight while she was walking on a street. Natomagan had never met her before he struck her in the throat with his elbow and began punching her in the face.

In that case, Natomagan pleaded guilty to sexual assault causing bodily harm, which led the Saskatchewan Crown to apply for a dangerous offender designation.

In a decision released in 2010, Saskatchewan provincial court judge Hugh Harradence found there was a "substantial risk" that Natomagan would reoffend.

But Harradence decided there was still a chance that with intense counselling and close supervision, Natomagan would one day no longer pose a risk to public safety.

He designated Natomagan as a long-term offender and sentenced him to eight years in prison, to be followed by an eight-year supervision order.

Ashton Natomagan was released from the Grande Cache Institution in February 2015. He sexually assaulted a stranger in Edmonton just over a month later. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

He was released from custody in Grande Cache, Alta., on Feb. 27, 2015. Four days later, he failed to return to his residential facility and was declared unlawfully at large.

After being AWOL for just over a month, he sexually assaulted another woman.

High risk to reoffend

While testifying, the Crown-appointed psychiatrist and psychologist were asked to determine Natomagan's risk to reoffend.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Erin Will found Natomagan rated high on a psychopathy checklist, noting that he "demonstrates psychopathic personality features to a high degree."

Will also found Natomagan scored "well-above-average risk" to reoffend, noting his risk would only drop to "above-average risk" when he reached the age of 60.

Psychologist Debra Jellicoe reached the same conclusion, noting Natomagan's risk for sexual and violent recidivism falls within the "high range, if no efforts are made to manage his risk."

Jellicoe noted Natomagan's in-custody behaviour appeared to be getting worse, involving " substance use, aggression and manipulative attempts.

"Sadly it appears that Mr. Natomagan has adapted more easily to an institutional life than he has in the community," she wrote.

One of the reports prepared at the request of Natomagan's lawyer states, "Treatment should be practical, culturally-anchored and deal with emotional material particularly related to earlier trauma."

Block noted Natomagan's strengths include "ingenuity, cleverness and resourcefulness."

Natomagan told the author of the Gladue report that "he would like to create a business as well as possibly become a professional poker player.

"He stated he is also an artist and would like to open up a business doing dog grooming as well as animal portraits."

Natomagan remains in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre. His dangerous offender hearing is expected to resume in the fall.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston

now