Gagetown soldier guilty of sexual assault, military panel finds

Cpl. Steven O’Dell, a soldier at Base Gagetown, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female soldier in 2018. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Cpl. Steven O’Dell, a soldier at Base Gagetown, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female soldier in 2018. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

A soldier at Base Gagetown is guilty of sexual assault, a military panel has decided.

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

On Saturday, a panel of four military peers found him guilty after about two and a half hours of deliberation, said military prosecutor Maj. Max Reede.

The complainant testified last week that O'Dell intentionally touched her sexually during a training exercise near Summerside, P.E.I., in 2018.

Reede said the two sides will meet Tuesday to decide on a date for sentencing. The charge comes with no mandatory minimum and a maximum of 10 years in prison, and the sentence will be decided by a military judge.

"It's really up to each counsel to determine whether they're going to be calling witnesses to speak to Mr. O'Dell's character or whether there's going to be any sort of documentary evidence introduced or any pre-sentence report," Reede said.

A case of credibility

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 genitals.

During the court martial last week, O'Dell testified that he grabbed the complainant's thigh — and that of another soldier — to haul himself up off the floor of a light-armoured vehicle.

The case revolves around the credibility of O'Dell and the complainant, and whom the panel believes, said Judge Commander Catherine Deschênes.

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.

The complainant testified that she told her immediate superior, Master Cpl. Matthew McLellan, what happened. He 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, she said on the stand.

No other details were provided during the court martial about that conversation.