Jian Ghomeshi trial: Twists and turns of case rivalled most intense courtroom dramas

The Jian Ghomeshi trial was full of dramatic moments, surprising twists, and unexpected evidence that would compare to some of the most intense television courtroom dramas.

Judge expected to deliver ruling in Ontario Court of Justice on Thursday

The Ghomeshi trial, which began in Toronto on Feb. 1, 2016, and lasted eight days, garnered widespread media attention with hordes of reporters and spectators lining up at Toronto's Old City Hall courthouse (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Jian Ghomeshi's guilt should not be inferred by the fact all three complainants were steadfast in their testimony that they were sexually assaulted, his lawyer Marie Henein said in her closing arguments at his trial on choking and sex assault charges.

To expect one of the women to suddenly recant in the witness box, she said, "maybe happens on TV" but not in the real world of trial proceedings.

The trial, which began in Toronto on Feb. 1, 2016, and lasted eight days, was full of dramatic moments, surprising twists, and unexpected evidence that would compare to some of the most intense television courtroom dramas.

Ghomeshi is expected to find out Thursday whether a judge finds him guilty or not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

Ghomeshi, legal observers had noted, had made a smart move by hiring Henein, widely respected in the legal community, having defended such high profile clients as former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan, junior hockey coach David Frost, and former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant.

The Ghomeshi trial garnered widespread media attention with hordes of reporters and spectators lining up at Toronto's Old City Hall courthouse in the wee hours of the morning, hoping to snag one of the 100 seats available in the courtroom. An overflow room was set up, as more media and spectators squeezed in to watch the proceedings on the television provided.

The charges against Ghomeshi, formerly a rising star at the CBC and host of the popular radio show Q, relate to alleged assaults on three women from 2002 to 2003. The identities of two of the complainants in the case are protected under a publication ban, but actress Lucy DeCoutere, also an air force captain, went to court to lift the ban on her name.

Ghomeshi remained quiet during his trial, never taking the witness box and saying nothing to the press as he entered and exited the courthouse every day. Always dressed in a suit, he would greet his mother in the courtroom every day and would occasionally scribble down notes during the trial that he would hand over to his counsel.

The case zipped along rather quickly, not needing the three weeks that had been allotted. There were only three witnesses, the complainants, who largely remained strong in the face of tough cross-examination by Henein. 

No opening statements

There were no opening statements in the judge-alone trial. Instead, Crown attorney Michael Callaghan went straight ahead and began with the first complainant — a woman who told court that Ghomeshi had pulled her hair and punched her in the head at his home after a dinner date.

But by the second day, under cross-examination by Henein, trial observers got a glimpse into what was to come over the course of the proceedings.

Henein methodically went through statements made by the woman to the media, police, the Crown and court, having the witness repeat again and again that she had no contact with Ghomeshi after two alleged assaults.

Clearly, Henein was leading the witness somewhere. She paused during questioning, and presented the witness with an offer — before she went any further, Henein said, she would give the woman "a chance" to come clean and "tell his Honour and this court the truth."

When the woman insisted she had told the truth, Henein unveiled one email, and then another — that had both been sent to Ghomeshi after the assaults allegedly occurred — and one that included a bikini picture of herself.

It was certainly evidence prosecutors were not aware of, and it was not something the witness was expecting. She countered that she had forgotten she had sent the emails, but said they were bait to get Ghomeshi to explain to her why he had punched her in the head.

It would be a legal strategy that Henein would employ again all in an effort to damage the credibility and reliability  of the witnesses and their testimony.

While questioning DeCoutere, who had told the court that Ghomeshi, after a dinner date, had took her by the throat at his home, choked her and slapped her, Henein suggested she too had kept hidden details about other contact she had with the former radio personality following the alleged assault.

Like the first witness, she gave DeCoutere the opportunity to "take a moment and tell the truth of the real conversation that was going on."

When DeCoutere replied that she didn't know what Henein meant, the lawyer said she would continue the next day, a cliffhanger ending to an already intense day of cross-examination, prompting loud gasps and expressions of disappointment from many of the spectators in the overflow room.

DeCoutere had told the court that she had no romantic interest in Ghomeshi after her alleged assault, and would only see him at industry functions. But Henein presented her with a series of emails she had sent him, also to the surprise of both the Crown and DeCoutere, that included one after the alleged assault saying she wanted to have sex with him.  Also included was a handwritten letter sent days after their meeting saying she was sad they didn't spend the night together.

Another surprise

By the time the third witness was set to testify, court was in for another surprise. It was learned that just days earlier the woman, who claimed Ghomeshi had squeezed her neck and covered her mouth so she couldn't breathe, had contacted her lawyer to let the Crown and police know she had more details to provide. 

Court heard that she failed to disclose to police in her initial interview that she had a consensual sexual encounter with the former CBC host in the days after the alleged sexual assault.

It was the "inconsistencies and improbabilities and proven lies" by the witnesses that should lead to Ghomeshi's acquittal, Henein argued in her closing.

But it's now up to Ontario Court of Justice Judge William Horkins to decide how much to take into account the doubts raised about the complainants' credibility and whether those questions are enough to sufficiently taint the credibility of their core allegations.