Defence counsel pointed a finger Friday at the accused’s ex-husband as the writer of an anonymous letter to the Vernon School District suggesting his former wife had a sexual relationship with a former student.
A claim the ex-husband adamantly denied.
Terry La Liberte, representing Deborah Louise Ashton, looked at Ashton’s ex-husband, Mike Jellema, sitting in the witness box, and asked point-blank if Jellema – in a “depressive state of mind because his marriage was falling apart and with the couple’s daughter standing 10 feet away” – said to Ashton, ‘If you don’t quit hanging around with the students and quit coaching, I’ll write an anonymous letter and I’ll destroy you.”
“I never said that sir,” replied Jellema.
Ashton, 47, is charged with five counts relating to an alleged sexual relationship with a former student between 2002 and 2004, when the student, then in Grade 7, was in the same Vernon elementary school she taught and was vice-principal at.
The relationship is alleged to have carried on when the student moved on to a Vernon secondary school.
The issue came to light in June 2008 when the Vernon School District received an anonymous letter.
Further in his cross examination, La Liberte, who had Jellema admit he had sought medical treatment and counselling for depression upon the end of his marriage in 2003, asked Jellema if he had shown up at Ashton’s home in 2008 on a motorcycle, and with their daughter again being present, made another threat to send a letter.
“Didn’t you say words to the effect that you were going to send an anonymous letter and it didn’t matter as long as you could get a kid to say yes?” asked La Liberte.
“No sir,” replied Jellema, who was put on the witness stand Thursday afternoon by Crown counsel Neil Flanagan, and who remained on the stand as proceedings neared week’s end Friday.
Jellema told judge Alison Beames that from spring of 2003 to the fall of 2003, his marriage to Ashton was in “serious difficulty.” That things had changed in the relationship, that his wife was no longer interested in discussing things going on in each other’s lives, and that romance between the pair had stopped.
“Deb was not interested in discussing things that were going on,” said Jellema. “The marital intimacy stopped, which was a change. My advances in that department were not received or welcomed.
“I would ask her what she was doing or where she was going and she would tell me, ‘It’s none of my business. You’re not my father. I don’t have to tell you.’
“Where she was going during that time, I didn’t know. She said she’d be going to a meeting. I’d attempt to contact her but was unable to.”
One such occasion was in September 2003.
Jellema, who was coaching high school football, said he was told by Ashton that day that she was going to a meeting after school. He said he came home to change before heading off to the game in Kamloops. When he was home, he heard Ashton pull in to the garage.
“My sense was that something unusual was going on so I parked down the block. Usually I park in the driveway or the garage,” said Jellema. “I thought Deb was going to berate me about football so I went into a spare room. I heard Deb come into the house and she was opening up closets. I went into the spare room closet and I could hear her looking through the closets.
“She came into the spare room, opened the closet and saw me standing there. I asked her what she was doing. She said, ‘Looking for a CD. Why are you in the closet?’ she asked. It wasn’t my finest hour.”
Upon leaving, Jellema said he saw a student that he recognized as the alleged victim in the front seat of Ashton’s car, and was “shocked to see him.”
“I asked him what he was doing at my house and he seemed startled to see me,” said Jellema. “He didn’t respond. Deb said she was giving him a ride home.”
Jellema also told the court that, in the time period from spring 2003 to fall 2003, he had found condoms in an open box containing women’s feminine products under the counter in a washroom the couple shared in an ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom.
“My concern was that I had a vasectomy in 2001,” said Jellema, who replied, under cross examination from La Liberte, that Ashton explained the condoms were for students of hers that were sexually active.
Jellema also said during this testimony that he and Ashton argued about her taking a number of her students to a three-on-three basketball tournament in Vancouver, and that at one point he had placed a tape recorder under the front seat of her Suburban before she went out one night.
After she came home, Jellema got the tape, played it, then played it for Ashton and her mother, who was visiting.
During cross examination, Jellema said he was “60 per cent sure” he heard Ashton say on the tape, ‘Come over to my house. Mike’s away and the kids are with the grandparents.’”
Asked what he thought it meant by La Liberte, Jellema said he had no idea.
“I was confronting my wife,” he said. “I was concerned about the state of our marriage.”
Ashton is being tried for the second time after her first trial in 2011 ended with a hung jury.