Unexpected delay stalls Ashton trial

Deborah Ashton's lawyer asks for in-camera meeting after 45 delay to start Thursday afternoon session, which is then adourned...

  • Mar. 16, 2012 1:00 p.m.

Court resumes at 10 a.m. today in the case of a former Vernon teacher and vice-principal accused of having a sexual relationship with a former student between 2002 and 2004.

The case against Deborah Louise Ashton, 47, took an unscheduled break Thursday afternoon. Reasons for the break are unclear.

With a witness on the stand, Crown counsel Neil Flanagan finished his questions just after noon Thursday. Ashton’s lawyer, Terry La Liberte, asked judge Alison Beames if they could take the lunch break, which she granted, stating matters would resume at 2 p.m.

With a large crowd in the gallery waiting for proceedings to start, the afternoon session began at 2:45 p.m. with La Liberte asking to meet the judge in camera to discuss what he termed a security matter.

The court was cleared and, just after 3 p.m., a Supreme Court sheriff announced to the crowd court was adjourned until 10 a.m. Friday.

Neither side would comment on the delays, with La Liberte stating the matter was in camera.

Prior to the lunch break, the witness, a staff member at a Vernon elementary school – the same one Ashton and the alleged victim worked at and attended – told Flanagan that her son was on the Grade 7 school basketball team with the alleged victim, the team Ashton coached, and that she “often saw” Ashton with the alleged victim and his three closest friends “in school, her vehicle and in classrooms.”

“My own son did things with this group and Ms. Ashton,” she said. “They were all on the basketball team, but they did things outside of school. They went to the movies with Ms. Ashton in her vehicle.”

The witness said the following year, she would go to watch her son playing Grade 8 basketball at a Vernon secondary school, on the same team again as the alleged victim, and that she ran into Ashton at “maybe three, four or five games.”

“I can’t really remember how many games I saw her at,” said the witness. “We’d see each other and we’d greet each other.”

She also testified there were two occasions in the Grade 7 year when she went to deliver messages to Ashton in her classroom – something she said was part of her job responsibilities for all teachers at the school – and found her doors locked.

On both occasions, said the witness, she heard noise coming from the room but couldn’t discern what the noise was. She said on one occasion, Ashton answered the door and the witness gave her a message.

“There may have been a couple of boys in there, maybe because of the noise level, but I’m not sure who they were,” she said.

On the other occasion, nobody answered at Ashton’s classroom and she left a “sticky note” on the door.

“Were the classrooms regularly locked?” asked Flanagan.

“I don’t recall ever having to knock on a door before,” said the woman.

Before she took the stand, La Liberte poked away at the testimony of another of the alleged victim’s close friends, now 22 and who can’t be named.

The friend said Ashton took him to her home in Grade 7 and watched a movie in her bedroom with Ashton’s two kids. Her ex-husband wasn’t home.

After the movie, the friend said Ashton took him into the kitchen to have a personal conversation.

“She was telling me she has a great burden on her, and there were tears in her eyes,” he said. “I was trying to get her to tell me but she wouldn’t.”

The friend said Ashton never did reveal the great burden and that he had to look up what the word burden meant after she drove him home that night.

It was one of “three-to-five” personal conversations the friend said he had with Ashton.

La Liberte pointed out that in his original statement to the police, the witness said he went for coffee with Ashton to a coffee house and that she broke down in tears in front of a group of people.

“You gave police this story about her sitting down in front of people weeping about a great burden. “That’s quite a story,” said La Liberte.

“It was true at the time,” stated the witness. “It’s too long ago to remember it as I remember it right now. That conversation happened in her house in her kitchen. Why I said what I said before, I have no idea.”

La Liberte asked the witness if he had a crush on Ashton.

“As a Grade 7 boy’s mind, I would say I had a crush. As a 22-year-old man today, I would say no,” said the witness, who was asked by La Liberte to clarify his answer.

“In Grade 7 she was the only girl/woman I hung out with. I didn’t hang out with other girls so it would be common to say I had a crush.”

La Liberte asked the witness if the crush continued on to Grade 8 and about the boy making a lot of phone calls to Ashton’s house.

“Were you told to stop making the calls?” asked La Liberte.

“I don’t remember, it was too long ago,” said the witness.

Ashton has pleaded not guilty to five counts in this her second trial on the matter. Her first trial last year resulted in a hung jury.

Beames is hearing this case alone.

The trial is expected to continue through next week, and closing submissions may happen the week of March 27.