Nova Scotia

Former St. FX football players acquitted of sexual assault

Jonah Williams and Tyler Ball were football players and students at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., when they were accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student at a party in November 2017. On Wednesday, they were found not guilty.

Not-guilty verdicts of Jonah Williams and Tyler Ball capped a 2-week trial

An exterior shot of Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Antigonish, N.S., on Nov. 27, 2019. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

There were hugs, gasps and sobs in an Antigonish, N.S., courtroom Wednesday as two men were acquitted of sexually assaulting a university student.

The men, Jonah Williams and Tyler Ball, were football players and students at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish when they were accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student at a party in one of the university dorms in November 2017.

The not-guilty verdicts at Nova Scotia Supreme Court capped a two-week trial in which intimate details of the sexual encounter that night were explored in prolonged cross-examinations of the woman.

On the night of Nov. 17, 2017, there was an event known as the "Catalina wine-mixer" in the dorms. Williams, who had known the woman prior to the event, encountered her there and they started dancing. The woman told the court that prior to that night she considered Williams a friend and trusted him. She had not met Ball.

After dancing for a while, Williams and the woman went to his dorm room where they engaged in consensual sex acts. The complainant said in her testimony that she did not want to have sex that night. Over the next 45 minutes to an hour, they were interrupted on a few occasions by people coming into the room.

Jonah Williams enters the courthouse in Antigonish, N.S., on Wednesday. He is one of two former St. Francis Xavier University football players found not guilty of sexual assault. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The court heard that four other men came into the room, and Williams joked that they should have a "sixsome." Williams testified that following the joke, he asked the woman if she would be willing to have a threesome. The woman testified that conversation never took place.

In a subsequent interruption, Ball entered the room and the two men said that Williams repeated his question about a threesome. The three of them did end up performing sex acts on each other.

In her testimony, the woman said she was quite drunk that night and her speech was slurred.

While she did not remember it, she was checked on two occasions by residence assistants (RAs) who were patrolling the dorms that night.

Justice Timothy Gabriel said he attached a great deal of weight to evidence from one of those RAs because, unlike many of the other witnesses who testified about that night, she was completely sober.

Tyler Ball outside the courthouse in Antigonish on Nov. 27, 2019. Ball was found not guilty of sexual assault. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The judge said the RA testified in a straightforward manner about how she talked with the complainant, who she said did not appear to be in any distress.

The complainant testified that she was shocked, disgusted and "frozen in fear" by the encounter with Ball and Williams.

The judge contrasted the woman's description of her state of mind that night with descriptions from other witnesses who said she was smiling and laughing.

Judge says complainant's testimony was evasive

The judge described some of the woman's testimony as evasive and noted that her testimony during the trial was contradicted by evidence she gave during the preliminary inquiry.

"To put it baldly, I have easily been left in reasonable doubt that the Crown has proven that [the complainant] did not consent to the threesome activities, whatever they actually were," Gabriel said.

 While family and supporters of the two accused hugged the men and one another, the woman had to be consoled in another corner of the courtroom.

"It is a disappointing outcome for the complainant," Crown prosecutor Alicia Kennedy said following the decision.

"The complainant in this matter exhibited incredible bravery in following through with this process."

On the day the complainant started testifying, members of the St. FX student body, including varsity athletes, formed an honour guard on either side of the sidewalk leading in to the courthouse. (Submitted by Alicia Kennedy)

Kennedy noted how on the day the complainant started testifying, members of the St. FX student body, including varsity athletes, formed an honour guard on either side of the sidewalk leading in to the courthouse.

Students packed the balcony on both sides of the courtroom on Wednesday to hear the verdict.

Defence lawyer Stan MacDonald, who represented both of the accused on the day of the verdict, declined comment.

"The judge said it all," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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