Retired Alberta teacher on trial for second historical indecent assault

David O'Reilly, 73, is charged with the 1976 indecent assault of a 14-year-old female student at Ellerslie Campus school. Last month he was convicted of assaulting a different 14-year-old female student in 1980.

David O'Reilly, 73, was convicted last month of assaulting another 14-year-old girl

David O'Reilly is pictured with his 1980 homeroom class at Ellerslie Campus School. (Ellerslie Campus School/Court exhibit)

For the second time in two months, a retired Alberta teacher is on trial accused of indecently assaulting a female student. 

In October, David O'Reilly was found guilty of the indecent assault of a 14-year-old student in 1980 at Ellerslie Campus school. O'Reilly, 73, was given a suspended sentence and 18 months probation. 

He was also placed on the national sex offender registry. 

O'Reilly allegedly assaulted another female student at the same school four years earlier. She was a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at the time. 

Her identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban. The woman is now 59 and lives in New Zealand. She testified by video conference. 

She said she remembers being singled out by O'Reilly, who taught physical education at the school.

"He was seen as a cool teacher and I was a naive country girl," she said. "I was quite flattered by that." 

She said she liked it when he complimented her on her looks and suggested she'd look even better if she wore contacts instead of eyeglasses.

In hindsight, she thinks she was being groomed. 

"I was just a young girl and didn't know any better really," she said. 

She testified she remembers him putting his hand on her knee and holding her for "too long at the hips" when she was practising gymnastics. 

The woman also recalled spending time alone with O'Reilly in his office, sitting on his knee and him quickly fondling her breasts with his hand moving up her thigh. 

There were other encounters when she was standing. 

"Initially, I would stand against the wall and he would stand with his hands on either side of me," she said. "I had no idea about sexual behaviour at that age, so I was confused by what was going on. A little bit scared and uncertain about what was appropriate."

She also told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Thomas Rothwell that on one occasion O'Reilly kissed her. She said she got frightened when he pressed the lower half of his body up against hers while she leaned against the wall. 

"It wasn't a long kiss, but it was a suggestive kiss," she said. "I just knew it was wrong and I really didn't know what to do." 

The woman said she ducked out under his arms and ran away. 

"To me, that was almost an ending in a way," she said. "Because it did quite frighten me. I don't recall much after that." 

The accused wrote in the complainant's Grade 9 yearbook in 1976. (Ellerslie Campus School/Court exhibit)

Pages from the  woman's 1980 Ellerslie Campus school yearbook were made an exhibit at the trial. O'Reilly signed her yearbook and wrote, "Thanks for the memories ... of a lot of good times that I'll remember for a long time, if not now." 

The woman testified she had a vivid memory of going to a lake cabin with O'Reilly and his then-wife in the summer of 1976 to watch Olympic gymnastics. 

On Tuesday, O'Reilly's ex-wife testified for the defence.

Ellen Singleton testified she has no memory of that encounter, nor did anyone in their family own a lake cabin at the time. 

O'Reilly did not testify in his own defence. 

The judge will hand down his decision on Friday morning. 

'It's very exhausting'

The woman who was indecently assaulted by O'Reilly in 1980 attended this week's trial, even though she admitted she found it increasingly difficult to be in the same room with her attacker. 

"It's very exhausting, is how I feel when I leave the courtroom for the day," she told CBC News. "I'm doing it because I'm a strong woman and I'm here to support the gal that came forward for this trial."

David O'Reilly left Ellerslie Campus school and later taught at the high school in Grande Cache for 29 years until his retirement in June 2016. (Grande Cache Community High School)

The woman said she kept a close eye on O'Reilly while his accuser testified. He was allowed to sit at the back of the courtroom next to his wife, rather than in the prisoner's box. At one point he was leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. 

"He's sitting nonchalant, but I can see the facial features change and the colour of his face change during the trial," she said. "It gets red or white in colour when different things are being said on the stand." 

O'Reilly's lawyer has filed a notice of appeal on the October conviction. He calls the verdict unreasonable and argues he was denied the right to a fair trial because the judge was biased toward him. 

O'Reilly is asking the court to hear his appeal and overturn his conviction. Failing that, he wants Alberta's highest court to order a new trial by judge and jury.

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