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Painful memories exposed in Vernon teacher trial

Mike Jellema, ex husband of Deborah Ashton, leaves court after testifying against her for the Crown. His evidence was contradicted by his daughter.
March 14, 2013 - 6:44 PM

By Charlotte Helston

An ongoing legal battle over the actions of a former Vernon teacher has further segregated an already struggling family.

Deborah Ashton, 48, has been through—and beaten—two trials charging her with sexually assaulting a young student. She's back in B.C. Supreme Court fighting her honour on two counts of perjury for allegedly making false statements while testifying in 2011. Ashton said she "always" picked up her son from daycare, and stated she "couldn't say" if a certain bracelet inscribed with the words "I go with you" had been purchased by her as a gift to the alleged victim.

In the past three days, court has heard evidence from the investigating police officer, the jeweler who did the engraving, the daycare owner, Ashton's ex-husband, and most recently, her 19-year-old daughter, Hailey Jellema.

The Crown has relied heavily on attendance records from Brer Rabbit daycare for much of its case. Crown counsel Don Mann painstakingly went through six months of records with Ashton's ex-husband, asking him to identify who signed the child out each day. Evidence revealed Ashton only signed the child out about 20 times in the six months, and her defense lawyer G. Jack Harris admitted the records went against his client's statement.

Hailey Jellema—considered by many to be Ashton's most loyal supporter—took herself nine years back, when she was just ten years old, and recounted her version of her little brother's after school routine.

She gave three possible scenarios for her brother's pick up: either she would walk over from her elementary school (which her mother taught at, and which her brother was attending kindergarten) and walk him back to wait with Ashton; she and Ashton would pick him up together; or her father Mike Jellema would pick him up and drop him off at the school gymnasium.

"I remember my brother being there at basketball practices, or when (Ashton) had to work late. We'd just hang out until my mom was done," Jellema said.

"My brother wouldn't go home with my dad alone," she said. "He didn't trust our father."

In his testimony, Mike Jellema didn't discuss with detail where he took his son after daycare. Mann asked him if there were times Ashton arrived home later than 5 p.m. in the company of their son.

"I don't have a specific recollection, sometimes maybe, other times the kids would be with me at home," he said.

At the time, Ashton and her husband were going through a messy separation with Jellema residing in the basement.

"It was a very traumatic time with my parents—those (times) stand out," Hailey Jellema said.

Times which weren't helped by Ashton's legal matters. Mike Jellema testified he's been alienated by his family, and his daughter doesn't disagree.

"I support both my parents, I just have a better relationship with my mother," Hailey Jellema said. "Ever since the way he conducted himself in these trials, I've lost a lot of respect for him. It'll be a long time before I speak to him again."

She made it clear her disappointment in her dad was nothing to do with his testimony—it was how he behaved outside the courtroom that made her lose trust.

"I wish with all my heart he didn't have to be dragged into this, no one should have to be. It would have been nice though if he'd been there for me and my brother."

When Mann asked about the depth of her loyalty to Ashton, the smartly dressed 19-year-old broke down in tears. During a brief intermission to give Jellema a chance to collect herself, Ashton too was crying.

Mann said he wasn't trying to "open old wounds" by bringing up painful memories, yet he questioned Jellema's memory, suggesting the memories of a child are different from those of an adult. But Jellema insisted the memories were clear.

Fuzzy memories are something the defense has been poaching on too. Harris has emphasized discrepancies with facts in his interrogation of Crown witnesses, including Ashton's ex and the police officer who investigated the case. Throughout the trial, he's gestured to general misconduct in the investigation.

He pointed out that Mike Jellema's meeting with former Crown lawyer Neil Flanagan is represented only by Flanagan's fragmented notes.

Jellema said the notes he received from Flanagan were missing pages, passages, and contained inaccurate information. During a telephone conversation, Flanagan took notes and sent them to Jellema so he could edit his answers.

In order to win the case, Mann will have to prove the accused made a false statement, knew it was false, and intended to mislead by making a false statement.

Supreme Court Justice Geoff Barrow said some false statements are made innocently, perhaps due to genuine forgetfulness. Sometimes, he said, individuals are convinced of the statement, even if it isn't really true.

The defense has one more witness to call tomorrow. Mann said the trial could still make its four day target.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call (250)309-5230.

Deborah Ashton is whisked from the courthouse by friends and family.
Deborah Ashton is whisked from the courthouse by friends and family.

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