"IT'S WHO I AM NOW, AND I DON'T KNOW IF I CAN CHANGE IT. I DON'T KNOW IF I WANT TO:" DEBORAH ASHTON
By Charlotte Helston
It was an emotional day for Deborah Ashton, her two kids, and numerous loyal supporters as her third—and what she prays is her final—trial approached an end.
A judge has yet to find Ashton not guilty or guilty on two counts of perjury for allegedly making two false statements in a sexual assault trial in 2011. Final submissions were expected Friday afternoon, but Crown counsel Don Mann and Ashton's defense lawyer G. Jack Harris agreed there wasn't sufficient time to make their closing statements. Submissions are scheduled to be presented June 17, tacking on three months to a years long ordeal.
"It's only a little disappointing we were unable to arrive at a full conclusion today," Ashton, 48, told InfoTel News when the trial adjourned. "We've already been waiting five years since this began with the charges in 2008. We'll take our time to arrive at the right verdict."
Ashton was accused of sexually assaulting a student between the years of 2002-2004. She went through two trials on those charges. One was a hung jury in 2011 that brought no resolution. The second was last year, and the acquittal that accompanied it was only cause for the briefest of celebrations. She soon learned the Crown wasn't giving up. Next came the perjury charges.
"We've had two postponements, a mistrial, then the perjury charges," Ashton says with a deep breath. In the lobby area outside the courtroom where she has spent countless hours over the past three years, Ashton lets herself cry.
"Do I think about it every day? Every moment. I dream about it. I worry constantly about the impact it has on my kids. I worry about the light coming back into their eyes. I worry about the students that wonder what happened to me. I worry about the parents that trusted me. I worry that this might happen to someone else," Ashton says.
"It's who I am now, and I don't know if I can change it. I don't know if I want to."
Though painful, the experience has shown her that for everyone who looks down on her, others love and respect her and believe in her innocence.
"There are shining lights through the pain," Ashton says, gesturing at the circle of tearful and nodding supporters around her. Most, if not all, are all members of SODA: Supporters of Deborah Ashton, a Facebook group dedicated to what they say is the truth behind the headlines.
Ashton says she's tired of newspapers splattering lines about her "having sex on a box of crayons" across their front pages.
"Bad luck and bad publicity," she says. "Within a week, my relatives from England were calling me about it, my students in India knew about it, it went global in a week."
It's not only global, it's permanent.
"I've applied for 50 jobs since this happened, and I'm not talking about salaries in the $30,000 bracket, I'm talking about humble jobs," Ashton says. "Only recently did I finally get hired. If you google me, you don't have to see my criminal record to decide not to hire me. Given the choice, would I hire me instead of someone with a clear history? Probably not."
She says right from the beginning she was portrayed as the villain and never given a fair chance at innocence.
"There's something wrong when an accused person is denied their Charter right to the presumption of innocence," Ashton says.
When the sexual assault charges were laid in 2008, she says the school board instantly severed ties with her.
"It happened so quickly. 'If a minor said it, she must be guilty,' was what they thought," Ashton says. "It was dominoes from there, no more presumption of innocence."
Ashton admits she was nervous to testify in her present trial, given what happened at her first one.
"You're afraid, you stop wanting to answer. Defending yourself becomes a challenge, and that has to be improved in the justice system," she says.
Ashton's legal fees are in the range of half a million dollars, much of that from her parents. She's preparing to go to counseling in the coming weeks, something she hasn't been able to do in the lead up to the trial. Someday, she hopes to have a peaceful sleep.
Despite the emotional and psychological grief this experience has brought her, Ashton says it has helped define who she is.
"For me, it reaffirms I did the right thing. To love your students isn't wrong. To feed them and clothe them, to give them a hug, is the right thing. To go places that aren't comfortable because of society's structures is the right thing. If we didn't do those things, what would that make us?"
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230.