UPDATE: 12:15 p.m. July 26, 2013
VERNON - Cries of joy erupted in Vernon Supreme Court this morning as former Vernon teacher and vice-principal Deborah Ashton was pronounced not guilty on two counts of perjury.
The trial followed two previous ones, the first which ended in a hung jury, and the second which acquitted her of sexual misconduct with one of her students. The perjury charges originated from two statements she made while under oath in her first trial.
"We've been in the justice system for five years," Ashton, 48, told reporters on the doorstep of the Vernon courthouse she has spent so much time in. "And it's been a struggle."
In his summation, Supreme Court Justice Geoff Barrow said he couldn't accept much of Ashton's evidence, including her claim that she couldn't remember anything about a bracelet engraved with the words "I go with you" alleged to have been given as a gift to her young student. He said the words could be interpreted as affectionate, something that would have been obvious to Ashton while facing sexual assault charges.
But with regard to the bracelet, and to a statement about "always" picking up and dropping off her son at daycare, Barrow said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had knowingly made a false statement with intent to mislead the court.
Upon hearing the words "not guilty", Ashton let tears of relief flood down her cheeks. She and lawyer G. Jack Harris held a brief embrace before she emerged to a sea of Supporters of Deborah Ashton (SODA).
"I am relieved today this is all over, I want to go home and hold my kids," Ashton said.
All told, the legal battle has cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars and the loss of a career she loved, Ashton said.
"It's been such a long road," Ashton said, blinking back tears. "All I have today is an opportunity to thank the people who stood by me right from the beginning, parents, teachers, administrative colleagues, friends from a long time ago, and above all my family who never let me down and never doubted me."
She said the charges really stung because she has always advocated on behalf of students and teachers. And while she encourages minors to come forward, she said there isn't ample protection for the person accused.
"The process immediately jumps to the defense of the minor, which in most regards is correct, and in that way I wouldn't want it to change," Ashton said. "But there must be accountability on the other end."
Ashton's lawyer, G. Jack Harris cautioned her not to talk to reporters during the trial, even though there was a lot she wanted to say. She said the police investigation on the perjury charges was unprofessional and unethical.
"It felt very much the perjury charges were a malicious after-effect, not a pursuit of justice in any way," she said.
Ashton said she teaches writing classes for adults, but will likely never set foot in a public school classroom after what happened.
"This family, I trusted them heart and soul," she said. "I couldn't put my family at risk like that again."
Asked what she's going to be doing now that her legal battle is over, Ashton said: "Living. We're going to live a good life."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
Deborah Ashton posted the following on the Supporters of Deborah Ashton (SODA) Facebook page shortly after leaving the courthouse.
"In 2008, my life was stolen. A system intended to advocate and protect minors relied on media to broadcast an assumed guilt, removing my Charter right to the presumption of innocence and fair trial. The investigative process under served my case and the justice system silenced my voice. My profession has been removed, my capacity to sustain a home for my own children debilitated... my life and the lives of my children, family and friends forever altered. I am the victim of a false accusation..."
Read the rest of her message here.
UPDATE: 10:51 a.m. July 26, 2013
VERNON - Deborah Ashton was found not guilty on two counts of perjury this morning in bc Supreme Court. Justice Geoff barrow said while he couldn't accept much of Ashton's evidence, he could not find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ashton, 48, hugged her lawyer Jack Harris upon hearing the verdict, while her supporters cheered from the balcony.
She denied two Crown allegations that she lied during testimony given at her 2011 sexual assault trial.
The sexual assault trial followed allegations of a three year relationship with a young student between 2002 and 2005.
The boy claimed the relationship began when he was in Ashton's Grade Seven class, but another B.C. Supreme Court judge agreed with defence arguments that much of the young man's story was bizarre.
Ashton was acquitted of those charges at her second trial, while the first ended with a mistrial.
To contact the reporter for this story, email email@example.com or call (250) 309-5230.
9:26 a.m. July 26, 2013
VERNON - A decision is expected today in the perjury trial of former Vernon teacher and vice-principal Deborah Ashton.
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 arguments, Crown lawyer Don Mann said Ashton lied about "always" dropping off and picking up her son from daycare because she was trying to create an alibi for the "enormous" number (212) of alleged sexual encounters with the victim. As for a bracelet engraved with the words "I go with you" allegedly given to the boy by Ashton, Mann said she denied giving the gift due to the nature of the allegations she was facing. The context of her first trial, Mann said, means everything in this one.
Ashton's lawyer G. Jack Harris said the Crown hadn't established sufficient proof to deem the accused guilty of three essential things: that she made a false statement, that she knew it was false, and that she made it with the intent of misleading the court.
He said Ashton had little motive to lie about picking up her son from daycare; her whereabouts were already accounted for at the school, coaching basketball with her daughter. He said the bracelet was completely insignificant to the alleged victim, to Ashton, and therefore to the entire trial.
Ashton said she continues to have no memory with regards to the purchase of the bracelet, although a Vernon jeweler gave evidence it was engraved at his shop for a woman with the first name Deb and the same phone number as the accused.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston