CanadaOttawa sex-slave convicts win new trial

16:50  18 may  2019
16:50  18 may  2019 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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Former Ottawa lovers found guilty of using teen girls as sex slaves on the 2014 Victoria Day weekend have had their convictions set aside after the appeal court ruled the trial judge’s errors and misapprehension of evidence reveal a miscarriage of justice.

Antonio (Anthony) Comunale and Caroline Budd, who have always maintained their innocence, have been granted a new trial on several counts of sex assault, assault and forcible confinement involving two 16-year-old girls in 2014.

Communale was 31, and his then-girlfriend was 20, when they were arrested in 2014 after two girls complained to police.

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Both girls testified at trial and gave horrifying accounts, with one saying she had been hog-tied and gagged, then repeatedly raped in a Nepean basement. The girl testified that she screamed in pain and begged them to stop, but the couple just laughed.

“They said I’m a good sex slave. … They wouldn’t stop. They were giggling and laughing,” the girl testified at trial.

The girls told court the couple plied them with booze until they were falling-down drunk.

Defence lawyers at trial branded the teen complainants as “pretty little liars,” who concocted the sex-attack stories just to keep out of trouble with their parents. The girls were at odds with their parents over drugs and skipping school.

The story they told was that they partied in the basement at Budd’s family home, where the parents rarely went downstairs. One of the girls said after a night of drinking, she was sexually assaulted, but returned on another night, this time with a friend who was then raped.

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The court heard horrifying accounts that included dildos, nipple clamps, and a metre stick used for 50 spankings.

After a five-day trial, Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland said he believed the girls’ wholeheartedly and described them as compelling, credible and reliable.

“They did not conspire to fabricate their stories,” the judge told court before convicting the couple.

Justice Kirkland delivered the guilty verdicts following closing arguments and immediately after a lunch break.

It was his last trial before retirement at age 75.

The appeal court has ruled Kirkland misapprehended the evidence, and failed to base his findings on the correct version of it.

Notably, Kirkland said there was no probative value of cellphone images and texts from the night in question because they weren’t authenticated and only discovered by the defence a year later. The judge also said he had no idea who was in the photos because they weren’t put to either complainant on the stand.

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In fact, as the appeal court noted, a photograph was put to a complainant on the stand, who identified everyone and said it appeared to have been taken in the basement at the Budd home. It’s time stamp revealed it was taken right after the reported sex attacks and showed them horsing around, and the texts from one of the girl’s phones were sexually explicit. The texts joked about sex and indicated they were “horny.”

The cellphone images and texts are key because they were taken after the reported sex attacks and belie the complainants version, and destroy their credibility.

It goes to the heart of the case because the prosecution was anchored in the credibility of the girls.

The appeal court said it was essential for the judge to consider the actual evidence heard at trial.

“He failed to do so,” the appeal court ruled.



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