Yellowknife man convicted of sexually assaulting woman in her home awaits appeal decision

The fate of a Yellowknife man who attempted to storm out of a courtroom after being found guilty of sexual assault is now in the hands of appeal judges, after a panel heard his appeal Tuesday.

Man's lawyer argues judge relied on stereotypes in rejecting man's claim sex was consensual

Richard Roberts was sentenced to three and a half years in custody for forcing sex on a Yellowknife woman while she slept in her home. (Mitchel Wiles/CBC)

A panel of appeal court judges is now considering the fate of a Yellowknife man appealing his sexual assault conviction.

On Tuesday, the man's lawyer argued, in part, that his client's version of events was rejected partly because the judge relied on stereotypes about how sexual assault complainants would behave.

The lawyer said that's as wrong as it once was for judges to assess the credibility of sexual assault complainants based on stereotypes about how they should react.

Richard Stanley Roberts was convicted of sexually assaulting a highly intoxicated woman in her Yellowknife home and then threatening to burn it down if she told police. When Roberts was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, he tried to storm out of the courtroom before the judge was finished.

During his trial, Roberts admitted he had sex with the complainant, but said it was consensual and she initiated it.

But the judge said that was not plausible, partly because another witness who saw her an hour before said she was crying and upset.

Roberts' lawyer said that's the same as using stereotypes about how victims should behave in assessing their credibility — something that's not allowed under the law.

But prosecutor Blair McPherson said the difference between Roberts' description of the complainant and the witnesses was just one of five reasons the judge gave for rejecting Roberts' story.

The judge also noted Roberts said he was only mildly intoxicated that evening, whereas police who arrested him the next morning said he was still showing signs of intoxication at that time.

McPherson urged the appeal court judges to rely on the trial judge's assessment of Roberts' credibility, saying that judge had the advantage of seeing and hearing witnesses as they testified.

The appeal judges gave no indication when they would give their decision.

Roberts' lawyer also argued that the judge should have heard from another witness who was initially reluctant to testify. Between the time Roberts was convicted and the time he was sentenced, Roberts' lawyer tried to re-open the case to hear from that witness, saying she had testimony that could cast doubt on the testimony of the complainant.

The judge did not re-open the case, noting Roberts' lawyer could have called the witness during the trial.

The panel of three appeal court judges did not give any indication of when they would give their decision on Roberts' appeal.