Mistrial declared in former Vernon teacher’s sex crimes trial

A mistrial has been declared in the case of a former Vernon teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a former student in 2002 and 2003. Judge S. James Shabbits declared the mistrial Wednesday in the case of Deborah Louise Ashton, 46, after the jury told the judge they couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.

A mistrial has been declared in the case of a former Vernon teacher and vice-principal accused of having a sexual relationship with a former student in 2002 and 2003.

Judge S. James Shabbits of Nanaimo declared the mistrial Wednesday in the case of Deborah Louise Ashton, 46, in Vernon Supreme Court after the eight-woman, four-man jury sent a note to Shabbits at 3:35 p.m.

The note said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on the charges after 13 hours of deliberation over two days following an 11-day trial.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is no possibility of this jury reaching a unanimous verdict on any of the three counts,” said Shabbits. “I’m satisfied with that.”

Asked by Shabbits if the decision was, indeed, unanimous, the jury foreperson stood and said, “Yes, your honour. I regret that is so.”

The rest of the jurors stood to show the decision was unanimous.

Ashton, who bowed her head in the prisoner’s dock and fought back tears when the note was read, pleaded not guilty at the start of her trial Feb. 7 to charges 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.

The decision means Ashton could be re-tried on the matter.

“I have so much to say but obviously I can’t comment at this point,” said Ashton, who was supported by more than 15 friends and family at Wednesday’s decision. A majority of the supporters were also in tears and in shock at the outcome.

At least two members of the jury could be seen with tears in their eyes as they left the courthouse.

The jurors have a provision under the Criminal Code of Canada that prevents them from discussing with anyone anything said in the jury room.

“There is no reason to think you haven’t deliberated the matter fully, and not arriving at a unanimous verdict is always a possibility,” Shabbits said to the jury. 

Ashton’s lawyer, G. Jack Harris, and Crown counselor Neil Flanagan declined to comment.

The accuser, now 21, was not in court for the decision.

The matter will be back before the trial co-ordinator on April 11 to possibly set a date for a new trial.