Awet Mehari granted bail pending appeal hearing for sexual assault conviction

A Regina man found guilty of sexual assault is appealing the conviction and has been granted bail pending the appeal hearing. The alleged victim said it's difficult to know the man is back out in the community.

Survivor says she's frustrated by bail decision

A Regina judge sentenced Awet Mehari, after finding him guilty of sexual assault. (Facebook)

Awet Mehari, who was convicted of sexual assault in Regina and sentenced to three years in prison, has been released from custody pending an appeal hearing. 

Alexis Kolody, who reported Mehari to police, successfully asked the court during the first trial to lift the usual publication ban on alleged sexual victims' names. She said at the time she wanted to ​share her experience and encourage other survivors to speak out. 

Now she says hearing Mehari is back out of prison is "like a slap in the face."

"I just think that what did I go through for almost two years? What did my family go through for almost two years?" Kolody said.

In January, a judge at Regina's Court of Queen's Bench found Mehari guilty of sexually assaulting Kolody in September 2017. The 29-year-old was sentenced to prison for three years, less time served, on May 13, 2019

"Going through the court process, doing a preliminary [hearing,] doing a trial — it took a big toll on my emotional and mental well-being," Kolody said.

She said she expected Mehari to appeal the conviction, but never considered he might be released back into the community. 

"I was pretty shocked and upset about it." 

Bail pending an appeal hearing is not uncommon, but Kolody had little experience with the justice system prior to this experience. She wondered if she should have asked more questions. 

"​But what questions are those? How do we know what questions to ask if it's our first time?" 

Kolody said she's frustrated and worried about the possibility of seeing Mehari in Regina, a relatively small city. She remembers how it felt to run into him after the alleged incident. Kolody said she'd freeze and have to go home immediately. 

"I'd be absolutely hysterical — crying and not even forming words, just hysterically crying for hours on end," she said. Kolody didn't want to react that way, but she couldn't help it. She said she's now trying to mentally prepare for situations like that. 

"​I don't want to go ​back to where I was with my mental health, it was a pretty scary place." 

Mehari is asking for the guilty conviction to be overturned. Kolody said she can't fathom another trial. 

"I don't want to be re-victimized. I don't want the cross examination. It's been exhausting." 

Alexis Kolody said that when she gets frustrated by the lengthy court process, she tries to remind herself that some cases 'don't make it to a trial, and a lot of people get slapped on the wrist.' (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

She said situations like this might make some people reluctant to report sexual assaults. She is still advocating for survivors to come forward and plans to keep sharing her story. 

"I didn't do anything wrong in this situation. I shouldn't be blamed," she said. "I want to keep trying to move forward and heal." 

Kolody said it's difficult not knowing when Mehari's appeal will be heard, but she's hopeful it will happen before Christmas.

"The fact that he's out walking these streets kind of blows my mind."

Conditions for bail 

The bail conditions for Mehari included $7,500 in cash bail. He must also live at his parents' home under curfew, appear before the court when ordered to, and be on good behaviour.

Mehari must not contact Kolody or refer to her on social media. Furthermore he must refrain from alcohol and drugs that are not prescribed and stay away from bars or liquor stores, except for employment purposes. 

He is prohibited from possessing weapons and the Regina police will continue to hold his passport. 

Defence lawyer Aaron Fox is representing Mehari. 

Justice Robert Leurer noted that Mehari seeking to have his conviction overturned — as opposed to seeking a reduced sentence — "invokes, if not adds weight to, the public interest in the reviewability of the trial decision." 

If Mehari's appeal is dismissed he will serve the original sentence imposed by the trial judge.