Judge to render verdict in Ashton trial

Deborah Louise Ashton to find out her fate Wednesday morning

Deborah Louise Ashton finds out her fate Wednesday morning.

Ashton, 47, the former Vernon teacher and vice-principal facing five counts in connection with an alleged sexual relationship with a former student between 2002 and 2004, will hear Judge Alison Beames’ decision at 10 a.m. in Vernon Supreme Court.

A jury in Ashton’s first trial could not reach a verdict on three counts over two days of deliberation in February 2011.

Beames told court Tuesday, after proceedings wrapped up at 3 p.m., she would take the evening to reach a verdict and deliver it this morning.

The final day of the 11-day trial, held over the course of three-plus weeks, saw lawyers for both sides give their closing submissions.

Ashton is accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her former Grade 7 students at the Vernon elementary school she was teaching and was vice-principal at, and that the relationship carried on after the student left to attend a Vernon secondary school.

With more than a dozen supporters for both sides in the gallery, people who have sat through most of the second trial since day one, Ashton’s lawyer, Terry La Liberte, started the final day Tuesday by saying the alleged victim was “stuck in a lie.”

“This was a young boy who probably had a crush on her, as did some of the other boys we’ve heard testimony from,” said La Liberte. “This was a woman who gave these boys everything.

“She gave every kid on the basketball team gifts. Does this corroborate sexual activity took place? No, no, no.”

Saying the onus is always on the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, La Liberte said to Beames during his 80-minute closing argument the alleged victim’s evidence is “so fraught with inconsistencies that one can’t rely upon it.

“My theory is he got caught up in a lie to his buddies about having sex with his teacher and could not resolve it,” said La Liberte. “He painted himself into a corner.”

La Liberte told Beames the alleged victim can’t remember details about having sex in Ashton’s suburban, can’t remember seeing a prominent tattoo around Ashton’s navel and also took aim at testimony given by the alleged victim’s brother and three friends, and Ashton’s ex-husband.

While acknowledging that the alleged victim did have problems with memory recall of certain events, Crown counsel Neil Flanagan said the focus of the trial is the “sexual things that began to occur between Ashton and the alleged victim in the spring of the student’s Grade 7 year.”

An alleged physical relationship developed after Ashton started taking the boy and his friends out for food, to movies or for shopping.

Flanagan suggested that holding hands at a theatre between the pair led to a “tearful admission that Ashton was falling for the student,” and that led to kissing, to sexual touching, to oral sex and to intercourse.

It was the alleged victim’s evidence about  a conversation between him and Ashton at a metal box on the school grounds where Ashton is alleged to have tearfully told the boy, “I have feelings for you, I’m falling for you, I know it’s wrong but I can’t help it.”

And it was after that conversation that the pair went to a lookout and kissed for the first time, said the alleged victim, who was on the stand for three days of the trial.

“His evidence of what occurs at that metal box has a clear ring of truth,” said Flanagan to Beames. “It’s how the evidence strikes you that matters, and through the course of a long trial, you hear evidence that’s tedious and you hear evidence where instantly you know it’s true. You’re certain of that.”

Flanagan scoffed at La Liberte’s assertion that the alleged victim was simply “saving face” with his changing testimony about event details over the course of the trial, and that a majority of his evidence had a “clear ring of truth.”

“Does a faulty memory, or inconsistencies, suggest a carelessness with the truth?” asked Flanagan. “In this case it clearly does not.

“My friend is suggesting that this young man is telling a wicked, monstrous, ruinous lie.”

Flanagan offered up two theories as to why a relationship started between the alleged victim and the accused.

“Deborah Ashton thought she was in love with the alleged victim and professed that to him at the metal box, against her better judgment,” said Flanagan.

“And, under the cover of friendship with the boy’s family, she entered into a relationship with him for her own sexual purposes.”

Flanagan said it was significant to note that the boy and his friends all described Ashton on the stand as “a friend,” and, for some, Ashton was the “first girl they had spent any time with.”

For the verdict visit www.vernonmorningstar.com