A former Vernon teacher and vice-principal accused of having a sexual relationship with a former student will face a second trial.
Crown counsel Neil Flanagan confirmed in Vernon Supreme Court Monday morning that he would be seeking to re-try Deborah Louise Ashton, 46.
Whether that trial will again be held in Vernon is up in the air.
It was also revealed that Ashton would be facing two new perjury charges levied against her.
Ashton pleaded not guilty in February to three counts of sexual assault, sexual interference of a person under 14 and invitation to sexual touching under 14 in regards to an alleged relationship with a former student at a Vernon elementary school between September 2002 and January 2004.
A mistrial was declared following the two-week trial in February when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict after 13 hours of deliberations over two days.
Flanagan, who deferred comment to the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch on the case, asked that a date be set to re-try Ashton on the matter, and also asked Judge Alison Beames for an application for the release of certain exhibits from the first trial.
“All I can say at this point is to confirm that Crown concluded that it was appropriate in the particular circumstances to proceed to a new trial on the alleged offences,” said Neil MacKenzie, spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Criminal Justice Branch.
As Ashton’s lawyer, G. Jack Harris, hadn’t seen the application, the matter was adjourned to May 16, as was fixing a date for a second trial.
Ashton represented herself during Monday’s precedings with Harris out of town.
She told the media after the 15-minute court session that she had been made aware Crown would seek to re-try her on April 7. On April 8, she said she was arrested at Vernon Jubilee Hospital by Vernon RCMP on the perjury charges as she awaited a diagnostic exam.
Asked what the perjury charges pertained to, Ashton said she would not comment until discussing the matter with Harris.
“I felt my legal counsel did a superlative job representing me in the first trial, which we waited three years to fulfil,” said Ashton. “I and my family have endured pain and duress. I have to be patient and have faith in the justice system…”
MacKenzie said that after the first trial, Crown discussed some aspects of the case with the police and suggested police conduct some additional investigation.
“Evidence collected by the police in the course of that investigation led to Crown approving the two charges of perjury against Ms. Ashton, relating to testimony at the trial, but I can’t go any further in describing specifically again those discussions or the particular circumstances,” said MacKenzie.
Asked about the potential for a change of venue in the second trial, Ashton welled up with tears and took several minutes to compose herself before answering.
“I had hoped to conclude these matters here in Vernon where I felt strong because I’m not guilty,” said Ashton. “I shouldn’t have to remove myself from my hometown and where I have my supporters, friends and family.
“I would like to express my profound appreciation to those friends and supporters while having to defend myself in this lengthy matter.
“I hope this new trial does not conclude due to guilt by attrition. I do not wish to leave. I wish to have it heard before friends and colleagues. However, with these two new charges, a change of venue might be something up for consideration.”
Ashton said she would discuss a possible change with Harris, as well as whether she has the right to re-elect her matter be heard by a judge alone or again by judge and jury.
There were a few things Ashton would discuss.
She told the media and the court that a juror in her first case knew her ex-husband but did not disclose that matter when selected for the jury. Ashton said she believed her ex-husband coached a juror’s son in youth soccer.
She also said that having a high-priced lawyer such as Harris defend her gives her grave concerns over her finances. Ashton estimated she had spent nearly $100,000 on her first trial.
However, she said she intended to defend herself more actively in the second trial.
“I invested great faith in the last trial and it didn’t come to the end we had hoped for,” said Ashton.
A publication ban remains in effect preventing the media from releasing the name of her accuser.