A Dartmouth, N.S., man says he accidentally touched a young girl's breast in the early 2000s after he put her down while playing a game, but the complainant told the court this week there was a pattern of incidents that lasted roughly six months.
Marcel C. Maessen, 66, was arrested and charged in April 2018 with sexual assault and sexual interference in relation to a girl who was 10 or 11 at the time. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
His three-day trial began on Monday at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
The 30-year-old complainant alleges that sometime between 2000 and 2002, Maessen touched her breasts on several occasions over a six-month period. Her identity is protected by a publication ban.
Maessen coached youth basketball with the Dartmouth Lakers, but police said in 2018 the charges were not related to his coaching.
Lifting up game
Maessen was a relative of the complainant's friend. The complainant said Maessen was "super involved" in their lives, often helping out with school trips, coaching various teams and volunteering in the community.
Several of the witnesses described a game Maessen, who is two metres tall, used to play with the kids where he would pick them up while they kept their elbows locked.
The three-day trial focused heavily on one incident in particular, where the complainant says Maessen picked her up while playing a game. When he put her back down, she said he slipped his hands over to cup her breasts.
"I obviously felt very uncomfortable, but didn't really know what to make of it or what to do about it and then it happened a series of times after that," she said.
Maessen told the court the girl asked him to "bounce her" on this particular incident. He said this phrase was new to him, but he agreed. Maessen and other witnesses said the girl could be persistent in wanting to be picked up or play the locking arms game.
Crown says accused's explanation 'not reasonable'
He said on this particular day, she slipped as he was putting her down, and the touch was accidental. Maessen testified she giggled as it happened and he believed she derived some pleasure out of it.
Crown attorney Stephanie Morton said during closing arguments Maessen's belief that a child derived pleasure from this fleeting contact demonstrates he sexualized her at that age, or deemed that what he did was inappropriate.
"I would submit that this explanation is not reasonable whatsoever," Morton said.
Maessen said he decided to use that as a "teachable moment," telling the complainant not to let anyone touch her there.
She remembered a different instance where Maessen "confronted her." She testified he asked her why she let him touch her. She said he also told her the "first time it happened it was a mistake" and that he wanted to see how long it would take for her to speak up.
"I was very hurt that someone I trusted would put that sort of responsibility on me," she said.
She also described another incident where she claimed to have seen Maessen's erection sticking out of his housecoat.
Maessen said he remembered the housecoat, which he said he did not particularly like and did not wear often, but did not recall this incident.
A childhood friend of the complainant took the stand, testifying she witnessed Maessen pick up the complainant and when he put her back down, she saw him touch her breasts.
She said she believed at the time it was an accident, but was disturbed by the complainant's reaction, who went from having fun to a look of "total blank."
Defense lawyer Eugene Tan spent much of his time questioning the friend's testimony, asking witnesses to confirm details about where the alleged incident took place and whether it happened.
No one, including the complainant, remembered this particular incident, or the way in which the friend described the setting where it took place.
Tan also brought up issues with the friend's memories, saying she began drinking at a young age and has ADHD.
In his closing arguments, Tan argued that nothing the friend said was true and that "virtually every other piece of her evidence was contradicted."
The complainant's mother also testified, saying she did not learn about the alleged abuse until years later after they ran into Maessen at a party. She said her daughter immediately wanted to leave and she had never seen her so visibly agitated and upset.
Testimony from accused's family members
Two of Maessen's relatives were questioned in court.
During cross-examination, one relative said at no point did she ask Maessen whether the allegations were true.
When asked by Morton why that was, she told the court, "Because I don't believe them to be true ... From my memory, there's not anything that sticks out to me that would support the claims that were made."
During closing arguments, Justice Joshua Arnold said neither the Crown nor the defense asked the complainant about these other alleged occurrences.
He also said he was unclear about Maessen's description of how he picked the girl up when she asked him to "bounce" her and again pointed out that neither party sought clarification on that description.
"I physically do not understand that," Arnold said referring to how Maessen picked up the girl.
Tan argued the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Maessen meant to touch the complainant for a sexual purpose. He said Maessen's response "is in no way untoward and no way criminal."
He also argued that the complainant "developed her own narrative in her mind" that viewed Maessen in a negative light and began seeing her childhood memories through that lens.
The decision is scheduled for Sept. 24.
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