Nfld. & Labrador

He admitted to assaulting her, then stopped going to court. She is still waiting for justice

Melissa Gulliver learned of her boyfriend’s past conviction after his arrest.

Melissa Gulliver learned of boyfriend’s past conviction after his arrest

Melissa Gulliver says her puppy has helped her relax and refocus. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

This story is part of Stopping Domestic Violence, a CBC News series looking at the crisis of intimate partner violence in Canada and what can be done to end it.

The details of this story are disturbing and may not be suitable for everyone.

Ashton Kennedy admitted in court last summer to slapping his then girlfriend Melissa Gulliver in the face the previous December, breaking a lamp, punching a hole in the wall, pushing her down on a bed, and slapping her again.

The details of what happened are outlined in an agreed statement of facts Kennedy signed more than 10 months ago.

But soon after, he stopped attending domestic violence court.

A warrant was issued, but he still hasn't been arrested.

All that has left Gulliver believing that the punishment for intimate partner violence doesn't fit the crime.

"Throughout this process I've learned it's not a justice system — it's a legal system, it's a court system," said Gulliver, 24.

"I don't point blame. It's not the RNC's fault, it's not the court system's fault, it's the person that is accountable for their own actions."

Ashton Kennedy, 26, holds his dog. (Ashton Kennedy/Facebook)

While it might not have been the court system's fault, she's been living with the consequences of what happened there.

She still worries about running into Kennedy, still finds herself aware of her surroundings.

"I'm no longer going to the gas station with my hood up, I'm no longer looking in my rear view mirror every time I drive," Gulliver said. 

"I took those steps to better myself but there is still that what-if … that paranoia in the back of your mind." 

I was afraid for my life.- Melissa Gulliver

Gulliver's been in counselling, and got a puppy to help with anxiety.

"She brings a lot of calmness, a lot of happiness and balance to my life."

Gulliver knew Kennedy for more than half a decade before entering into a relationship with him in 2018. After several months, the relationship became volatile, she said.

Gulliver recalls several occasions when Kennedy would become irate while driving, and it left her debating whether it would be safe to jump out. 

"He would start swerving in and out of traffic. Accelerating his speed. Swerving into the opposing lane … yelling, hitting his hands off the steering wheel," Gulliver said. 

"I was afraid for my life."

Melissa Gulliver's shoulder was bruised from being shoved on the floor. (Submitted by Melissa Gulliver)

Finally, in December 2018, there was an incident too severe to forget, and too severe for the couple's upstairs neighbours to ignore. 

Gulliver picked Kennedy up from a nearby pool hall early in the morning after he'd been drinking with friends.

While lying in bed, she said, Kennedy began asking about text messages she had sent to a female friend of hers, whom Kennedy didn't want her to speak with.

"He stood up from the bed and he just pushed me. I looked at him and said, 'You f--king psycho,'" she said. "He slapped me across the face and then he got on the bed and slapped me again."

Kennedy smashed an iPad and pounded his fists into the wall. He pushed her to the floor twice, then fled. The police tracked him down nearby, and arrested him.

Gulliver's arm was bruised after being assaulted by Kennedy on Dec. 4, 2018. (Submitted by Melissa Gulliver)

One of the biggest shocks came when Gulliver sat down with Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers who notified her that Kennedy would not only be charged with assault, but also with breaching probation.

"The officer told me, 'Just so you're aware, there is another file on him from a previous relationship.' I was not aware," she said.

Not the first time

Hilary Upshall dated Kennedy before Gulliver, in 2016.

Upshall went to the police station on July 10, 2017, to make an assault complaint about an incident that happened months earlier.

Kennedy admitted to grabbing Upshall, swinging her around, and striking her ankle against a kitchen chair.

Upshall told police there were many other incidents of abuse, but there were no witnesses and she could not remember the specific dates. 

"I've endured many forms of abuse from him," Upshall wrote in an email to CBC News. 

Photos posted on Facebook last summer show Kennedy holding a beer bottle with friends at a softball tournament. He was on conditions not to drink at the time. Shortly thereafter he stopped attending court. (Facebook)

After Kennedy pleaded guilty, he chose to go to family violence intervention court — an option in domestic situations when the accused pleads guilty. 

"The goal of the court is to prevent and reduce incidents of family violence by addressing the root causes of violence through teamwork with key community partners," says an excerpt from the provincial court website. 

The court requires offenders to participate in programming and intervention.

Kennedy had told her his last girlfriend was abusive toward him and that she maliciously had him charged but the charges were dropped. 

Active warrant

As in Upshall's case, Kennedy pleaded guilty to assaulting Gulliver and went the route of family violence intervention court.

But in August, Kennedy's bail supervisor notified the court that he had stopped checking in. Kennedy failed to appear for court appearances.

At a hearing in September, his lawyer, Jon Noonan, told the court he'd had contact with Kennedy but was limited in what he could say. 

CBC News has contacted Noonan, to advise his client of this story.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirms the warrant against Kennedy is still active and that officers have been unable to locate him.

During this time, Gulliver has seen photos on Facebook of Kennedy at a summer softball tournament. He is shown with a beer in hand, despite a condition prohibiting drinking.

Gulliver says she wishes she had known what happened to Upshall.

Gulliver says her ex-boyfriend shouldn't have been allowed to go through family violence court so soon after going through the court the first time. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"There needs to be some kind of system put in place so that women can be made well aware of what they are getting themselves into," she said.

"It is so easy for them to hide this from their partners."

Clare's Law welcome news

Clare's Law may have helped.

In December, Clare's Law, which would allow police officers to disclose an offender's criminal record of domestic violence, received royal assent in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature.

A working group is ironing out the details of how much information police can reveal. In some instances, police can approach a person who is in a relationship with a person with a violent past. In other cases, the partner must seek information from police. 

"Based on the experiences of other jurisdictions we anticipate this work to take 12 to 18 months," said a statement from a spokesperson in the department.

"The department is working within that timeline; however, it is difficult to determine if operational restrictions due to COVID-19 will affect this timeline."

The law was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 2014 in honour of a woman who was killed by her partner in 2009. Clare Wood hadn't known that her partner had a previous history of domestic violence.

Clare Wood, 36, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who had a violent past. Her death sparked Clare's Law in the U.K. to notify people about their partner's domestic criminal history. (Manchester Greater Police)

Gulliver has been following the updates from the government and is happy Clare's Law is in the works in this province.

She says she has picked up the pieces of what was broken during her short but harrowing relationship.

As she moves on, she hopes Kennedy does, too, by turning himself in and facing the consequences of his actions.

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.

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