Accuser takes stand at Ashton trial

Second trial of former teacher and vice-principal Deborah Ashton, accused of having a relationship with a student, begins in Vernon...

  • Mar. 7, 2012 11:00 a.m.

Sex with his teacher began in Grade 7 and happened at his house, her house, her parents’ house,  her truck, the school basement, the school supply room and even the classroom.

Such are the accusations of a now-22-year-old Vernon man against his former teacher and vice-principal, Deborah Louise Ashton, between Sept. 1, 2002 and Jan. 30, 2004 when the accuser was a student of Ashton’s at a Vernon elementary school, and as he continued on to secondary school.

Ashton, 47, entered five not guilty pleas as her second trial of allegedly having a sexual relationship with a former student began Monday morning in Vernon Supreme Court.

She pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual interference of a person under 14, invitation to sexual touching under 14 and sexual assault in her first trial in Vernon Supreme Court a year ago. That trial ended with a hung jury.

On Monday, Ashton pleaded not guilty to the same three counts plus two new counts of sexual exploitation.

Her second trial is being held before a judge alone, that being Judge Alison Beames.

The accuser, who can’t be named because of a publication ban, took the stand Monday afternoon.

When questioned by Crown lawyer Neil Flanagan, the accuser said the start of “sexual things” began after the school basketball season in 2002.

“She said she had to tell me something, probably two or three times,” said the accuser, who said the first time Ashton allegedly touched him was at a movie outing with some other friends in Kelowna.

He said he wanted to ask her a question about the movie and tapped her on the shoulder. Ashton, he stated, said ‘don’t do that.’

“I did it again later on, she grabbed my hand and she held it,” said the man.

What she “had to tell him,” he said, was that “she was starting to have feelings for me and was falling for me,” telling him outside the school after class one day.

“She was crying, she said she knew it was wrong but she couldn’t stop it,” said the accuser. “I was shocked, probably confused.”

The accuser told the court there were instances of oral sex in her truck, and sexual intercourse in his bedroom.

The court also heard from the accuser that Ashton regularly took him and three of his close friends out to movies, for food, to a three-on-three basketball tournament in Vancouver, resulting in a two-night hotel stay, and, on at least one occasion that the accuser can remember, go-karting in Kelowna.

The accuser was still on the stand Tuesday prior to The Morning Star’s deadline. He is expected to be cross-examined this morning by Ashton’s lawyer, Terry La Liberte of Vancouver.

The matter against Ashton came to light in June 2008 when three administrators in the Vernon School District, including then-superintendent Bob Peacock, and the Ministry of Children and Family Services received an anonymous letter claiming an “incident” had taken place between a Grade 12 student and Ashton when the student was in Grade 7.

Flanagan, who presided over the first trial, opened matters Monday by calling Peacock to the stand.

Peacock said he met with Ashton about the letter, and Ashton denied any incident had taken place.

“I know for a fact she said ‘it was a very tough year,’” said Peacock.

Under cross-examination, La Liberte dismissed that “a very tough year” had anything to do with an inappropriate relationship with a student.

“That’s not sexual in nature,” La Liberte said to Peacock. “Her reply, ‘no, it was a very tough year,’ to clarify, was a reference to the staff at that school. She was having a tough year with the staff.”

Peacock said he went to the high school where the student was enrolled, pulled him out of class, told him about the letter and asked him if any incident had taken place.

The student replied, said Peacock, “Yes, it was sexual in nature.”

Flanagan announced he planned to call many more witnesses in this trial, including  the accuser’s three close friends, and Ashton’s ex-husband, Mike Jellema, who did not appear during the first trial. Jellema, said Flanagan, would corroborate the testimony of the four friends.

“I’m sure the evidence of Mike Jellema will be highly relevant,” said Flanagan during his opening statement. “He will describe events that occurred between 2003 and 2004 when the sexual relationship started.”

Flanagan hinted that the ending of Ashton’s marriage to Jellema played a role in the alleged relationship with the student.

Nonsense, said La Liberte.

“Most of the evidence is character assassination,” said La Liberte in his opening. “Nobody raised red flags until an anonymous letter comes years later. It’s character assassination, plain and simple, and not corroborative of the issue.”

The trial is scheduled to run until March 16.