Conviction upheld for Botwood man in child sexual abuse in 'recovered memories' case

·2 min read

The Supreme Court of Canada has set aside the acquittal of a Botwood man, restoring his previous conviction in a 2016 case that pitted the recovered memories of a man against the denials of his alleged abuser, and which had no physical evidence.

In 2016, Angus Waterman was found guilty by a jury of sexually assaulting a child between 1975 and 1981. He was sentenced to 12 months house arrest.

Last year, the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador acquitted Waterman in a 2-1 decision, with one of the judges saying "the evidence of the complainant was not credible, and could not have been accepted by a fact-finder acting judicially."

However, that acquittal has been overturned in an appeal by the country's top court in a 5-2 decision, restoring Waterman's conviction.

"Although some of the inconsistencies are troubling, a majority of the Court is satisfied that the jury acted reasonably in believing the complainant," Justice Michael Moldaver said in the decision.

In 2015, the complainant — a former Botwood resident — wrote a lengthy Facebook post stating he was coming back to his hometown to put Waterman behind bars. In the post, he detailed shocking allegations of childhood sexual abuse, including rape, urination and defecation for sexual gratification.

'Yield to the wisdom of the jurors'

The allegations that made it to the courtroom differed greatly than those in the Facebook post. Five allegations of molestation were brought before the jury, and when asked what happened to the other allegations, the complainant said they were not real life, but rather nightmares he suffered for several years.

The judge cautioned the jurors to consider the discrepancies before arriving at a verdict. They returned with a guilty verdict.

Waterman's lawyer, Randy Piercey, appealed the decision, arguing the jury could not have had enough information to convict him for historical allegations of sexual abuse. Two of the provincial appeal court judges agreed.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its decision released this week, disagreed.

"The complainant accepted that his testimony was inconsistent with his prior statements. These inconsistencies were the focus of vigorous cross-examination, forceful closing submissions and a comprehensive jury charge, which the parties agree was free of errors," said Moldaver in the decision.

"For his part, the complainant explained that counselling had helped improve his memory since his initial police statement. In the majority's view, it was for the jury to decide whether this explanation neutralized any reasonable doubt caused by the inconsistencies."

Moldaver said the judges would "yield to the wisdom of the jurors who had the advantage of hearing the complainant testify."

"We decline to second guess this determination."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador