Court martial of Gagetown soldier handed to military panel to decide

Cpl. Steven O’Dell, a soldier at Base Gagetown, is charged with sexually assaulting a female soldier in 2018. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Cpl. Steven O’Dell, a soldier at Base Gagetown, is charged with sexually assaulting a female soldier in 2018. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

The court martial of a soldier at Base Gagetown is now in the hands of a military panel.

The four-person panel was given final instructions by a military judge on Friday afternoon, and they will begin deliberating at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Cpl. Steven O'Dell, a member of the 4th Engineer Support Regiment at Gagetown, is charged under the National Defence Act with sexual assault.

The offence is alleged to have occurred between Nov. 1 and Nov. 22, 2018, during an explosives detection training exercise near Summerside, P.E.I.

The complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified that she and O'Dell were in the back of a light-armoured vehicle taking "hard cover" after an explosive was found by other soldiers.

She said she was resting with her eyes closed when O'Dell ran his hand up the inside of her thigh and touched her sexually.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

O'Dell, however, testified that he grabbed the legs of the complainant and the soldier seated next to her to haul himself off the floor of the vehicle. He said he grabbed both soldiers just above their knees and denied touching the complainant sexually.

O'Dell's testimony differed from the complainant's on a number of points, including the number and names of the other soldiers with them, the amount of gear in the back of the LAV, and what words were exchanged.

His testimony also differed from what he told military police in April 2021 about the event.

With so many different versions of the events having been told over the intervening years, Judge Cmdr. Catherine Deschênes told the panel members that the main issues in the case are credibility and reliability. She told them they could accept some, all or none of a witness's testimony.

O'Dell, 29, chose to be tried by a panel of his military peers rather than a judge alone. The panel began the week with five members but was reduced to four when one member had to return home for a family emergency.

When their final instructions from the judge were complete just before 4 p.m. Friday, the panel members opted to start deliberations Saturday morning. Originally, two weeks had been set aside for the court martial.

Three witnesses testified

The process, much like a jury trial in civilian courts, heard from one prosecution witness — the complainant — and two defence witnesses — O'Dell and the soldier who was third in command and who was the first person the complainant told about the incident.

The complainant testified that her immediate superior, Master Cpl. Matthew McLellan, was willing to take the complaint up the chain of command, but she said she didn't want that. She said she only wanted to ensure that she didn't have to work with O'Dell for the duration of the training exercise.

McLellan did report the incident to his immediate superiors.

Nothing official became of the report until the fall or winter of 2020, when the regimental sergeant major asked the complainant if anything had ever happened to her in the past that she wanted to disclose, explained the complainant on the stand.

No other details were provided during the court martial about that conversation or why it occurred when it did.