Former Vernon teacher back in court

Deborah Ashton, 48, is charged with two counts of perjury after having been recently acquitted on charges of sexual assault of a minor.

UPDATE: 5 p.m. June 28

VERNON - Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Deborah Ashton, a former teacher and vice-principal, knowingly made false statements with the intention of misleading the court while standing accused of having sex with her pupil? This is what a Supreme Court Judge must decide now that final arguments have been made in the perjury trial which began in March of this year.

While Ashton was acquitted of all charges relating to the sexual assault, Crown lawyer Don Mann insists the context of those allegations explains why Ashton might have lied in her testimony.

Mann asked Supreme Court Justice Geoff Barrow to consider "the nature of the allegations the accused was facing" when she made the two statements currently under scrutiny.

"What the accused was facing was this suggestion of 212 sexual acts, this enormous number of alleged incidents," Mann said. "The accused set out to systematically dispute or deny those allegations. In doing so, she offered extensive details about her job, her children... her life."

Mann said her purpose in describing her daily routine in such detail was to prove she was too busy to have any time for the alleged victim, and also to "exonerate" herself as an "exemplary parent." So when Ashton testified she did all the drop-off and pick-up of her son—a statement she now admits is false—Mann argues she knowingly told a lie with the intent to mislead the court into thinking she had an alibi for those times in the day.

Mann said a bracelet engraved with the words I go with you—allegedly given to the victim—"posed a significant impediment" to her defense, which is why she lied about not knowing where it came from.

"It wasn't just the bracelet, it was what was on the bracelet," Mann said, describing the engraving as an "endearment." In the trial, a Vernon jeweler testified that his store did the engraving. According to the receipt, the woman who ordered it was named Deb, and had the same cell number as the accused. The alleged victim testified that Ashton gave it to him in a basket with other presents, he believed for his birthday.

"When you look at the purpose of her defense, and you consider the bracelet, the only inference you can come to is she intended to mislead the court," Mann said. "The fact that there were two of them (false statements) can be used in totality in the issue of intent."

Ashton's defense, G. Jack Harris said she didn't "set herself out as a good parent," he said she was one. Hailey Jellema, Ashton's daughter and a witness in her trial, proved this, Harris said. "(She) is the product of what a great parent is all about."

Hailey testified that while her father sometimes picked her little brother up from daycare, it was only to bring him to the highschool where they would wait for their mom to finish coaching basketball. She said she, her brother, Ashton and a girl who was staying with them would all go home together after practice. Mann discounted Hailey's evidence, saying she was a child and children are prone to inaccurate recollections. Harris said Hailey was largely responsible for her little brother, and insisted her memories were true.

Harris said Ashton had little motive to lie about picking up Mason; her whereabouts were already accounted for at the school, coaching basketball while Hailey waited for her. "It doesn't make one iota of difference," he said.

As for the bracelet, Harris said even if Ashton did give it to the alleged victim, and even if it was a romantic gift, the way the boy described receiving it was anything but intimate. The victim testified that he never really wore it, or even liked it. He said it was far overshadowed by an MP3 player Ashton gave him at the same time.

Harris maintained that despite circumstantial evidence pointing to Ashton as the person who ordered the engraving, the fact that the jeweler couldn't put a face to the transaction meant it couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she was ever there.

"I say, with the greatest respect, the significance of the bracelet is miniscule," Harris said. "This is the aftermath (of the first trial). This is the dribble that came out of it."

Barrow likely won't give his decision on whether Ashton is guilty or innocent until mid August. An official date will be set July 8. 

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston

 

UPDATE: 1:45 p.m. June 28

VERNON - Former teacher and vice-principal Deborah Ashton is back in court today for the final arguments in her perjury trial.

Ashton, 48, is charged with two counts of perjury stemming from a pair of statements she made while on the stand in an earlier trial, at that time accused of sexually assaulting one of her students. She was acquitted of the sexual assault charges last year after a 2011 mistrial.

In his closing submission today in Vernon Supreme Court, Ashton's defense lawyer, G. Jack Harris, said "every accused person in Canada is presumed innocent."

He said Crown lawyer Don Mann has to establish three things in order to prove Ashton guilty beyond a reasonable doubt: that she made a false statement, that she knew it was false, and that she made it with the intent to mislead the court.

The Crown says Ashton lied in response to two questions while under oath, the first involving a bracelet engraved with the words "I go with you" allegedly given to the victim, and the second concerning the pick-up and drop-off of her preschool-aged son.

Harris said the bracelet was not significant to the alleged victim, not significant to Ashton, and therefore not significant to the trial. When asked if she "purchased" the bracelet for the victim, Ashton replied, "No sir, I can't tell you that."

On the stand again in March facing her perjury charges, Ashton said she "continues to have no memory with regards to the purchase of the bracelet."

Harris said the lead investigator in the case, Const. Susan Kolibaba wasn't thorough in determining where the bracelet came from, and said she also acted unprofessionally when she showed a local Vernon jeweler a picture of Ashton. While Kolibaba testified she had no memory of showing the photo, the jeweler confirmed she showed it to him.

"Never in policing, ever was it right to give a witness a picture (of the accused)," Harris said.

He questioned why Kolibaba was given the benefit of the doubt when she misspoke about the photo, while "evil inferences" were immediately called against his client when she misspoke about what became her second count of perjury: claiming she had done all the drop-off and pick-up of her son.

Ashton has since admitted she misspoke about this fact. She said her husband would sometimes pick up their son and drop him off at school with her, where she coached basketball into the evening. Her daughter Hailey Jellema corroborated this in her testimony.

"I answered too quickly, I assigned myself to the memory of me (and the kids) going home together after school," Ashton said on the witness stand in March. "For the most part, I was the primary caregiver. I should have been more cautious—I regret it."

Harris said there wasn't enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ashton had knowingly lied, with an intent to mislead the court.

Mann told Justice Geoff Barrow the Crown does have enough evidence to prove Ashton guilty.

"When the accused was being asked (about the bracelet), really what was being addressed was whether this was an item given to the (victim)," Mann said.

Mann added "the use of the word 'purchase' is really meaningless."

"I suggest those words (I go with you) and that bracelet were significant to the accused," Mann said. "Is that something the accused is not going to remember?"

He said forgetting about the purchase of the bracelet is " simply not plausible."

He said the victim's testimony that she had given him the bracelet was corroborated by evidence from the jeweler, who had a receipt for the engraving which included Ashton's first name and her cell number from that time.

He said Ashton knowingly lied about the pick-up and drop-off of her son because she was trying to "cover off" the "212 times" she was alleged to have been having sex with the victim.

He said Hailey Jellema's evidence might not be accurate because she was a child at the time.

Closing submissions continue at 2 p.m. Stay tuned for updates.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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