Witnesses tell court about controlling character of Joshua Boyle

Witnesses at Joshua Boyle's Ottawa trial described the former hostage as having a controlling character following years in captivity.

Warning: This story contains graphic details some readers may find disturbing

Joshua Boyle arrives for his trial in provincial court in Ottawa on Monday, March 25. 2019. The trial is ongoing. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Witnesses at Joshua Boyle's trial described the former hostage as having a controlling character following years in captivity.

Boyle, 35, has pleaded not guilty to 19 charges, including assault with a weapon, sexual assault and forcible confinement. He is being tried by judge alone in provincial court in Ottawa.

Boyle was charged a few months after he returned to Canada in October 2017 with his estranged wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children. They had been held captive for five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Coleman, 33, is the alleged victim in 17 of the charges Boyle is facing.

Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer began the day by calling Janice Unger, an employee of Global Affairs Canada to the witness box.

She was a consular officer who joined Boyle and his family on their flight home from Pakistan to Canada following their release.

Unger testified Boyle did most of the talking for Coleman during the flight and didn't allow Unger or her colleagues to talk to Coleman for very long.

"He would say, OK that's long enough, go to your seat, you're there too long," Unger said.

Unger also described an incident she witnessed on the plane that left her in tears while testifying.

CBC News can't provide further details of the incident to protect the identity of the second victim, whose identity is covered by a publication ban.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Eric Granger asked Unger if she knew the family prior to meeting them for the flight, or whether she was aware that they had just spent five years in captivity.

Unger said she didn't know them but was aware of their captivity.

She agreed that she had no personal awareness of what the family dynamics had been during their time as hostages.

Caitlan Coleman leaves court in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 27. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Coleman's sister testifies

The next witness to testify was Coleman's older sister, JoAnn Rotenberry, who described to the court the first time she saw her sister following her release from captivity.

Rotenberry said she travelled to Ottawa in October 2017, shortly after Coleman was hospitalized for some sort of virus or infection.

Last week, Coleman testified that she spent four or five days in the Ottawa Hospital.

Rotenberry explained that she had met Boyle previous to that visit, but couldn't remember because of a lapse in memory she has due to spending three days in a medically induced coma in 2015. She told the court her memories since 2015 are not impacted.

"She looked very tired, she was frail, skinny," Rotenberry told the court, when describing her sister at the time.

Rotenberry testified that Coleman was expected to continue to care for the children during her time in hospital.

"She was the one who was sick in the hospital, but her duty was to clothe them, feed them, entertain them," she said.

Rotenberry described Boyle as having a "shattered state of mind," during her visit, often in a bad mood and speaking demeaningly to Coleman.

When Coleman was released from hospital, Rotenberry said her family moved to a hotel nearby.

During their time at the hotel, Rotenberry said Boyle was out at appointments during much of the time while Coleman and the children stayed in their room.

Rotenberry said she was surprised by her sister's behaviour towards Boyle, which she described as subservient.

"I thought that she would be stronger," she said.

Concerned for her safety

After returning home to the United States, Rotenberry said she kept in contact with her sister via email and text messages and that an exchange in November 2017 prompted her to contact police in the United States.

She told the court she was concerned for her sister's safety. After that, she said she was unable to get in touch with her sister.

On Dec. 7, 2017, Rotenberry said she sent an email to Coleman inquiring why she wasn't responding to her messages and asking if she had done anything to upset her.

Rotenberry said she received an email back from Boyle later that day, indicating that Coleman was busy and that her phone was "on the fritz."

During cross-examination, Granger asked Rotenberry about other email exchanges on Dec. 7, 2017, which included an email from Coleman that was sent a few hours after Boyle's email. 

It said she was sorry for being remiss with emails and that her phone was indeed on the fritz as Boyle had suggested. 

Rotenberry testified that she only met Coleman for the first time in 2010 because Rotenberry had been adopted when she was a baby and only found her birth mother and Coleman at that time. 

Granger pointed out that Rotenberry would have only known her sister for about two years before she was taken into captivity and that those two years fell into the period of time during which Rotenberry had lost parts of her memory. 

The trial will be dealing with procedural issues for at least the next week and a half.