Jury deliberations underway in Edmonton bar promoter's sex assault trial

After listening to 12 weeks of testimony, a jury of 10 is now deliberating in the Matthew McKnight sexual assault trial. 

The former Edmonton bar promoter is accused of sexually assaulting 13 women between 2010 and 2016.

Twelve of the alleged victims testified at McKnight's trial, providing sexually explicit accounts that sometimes became emotional.

The women met McKnight at night clubs and most were invited back to his downtown Edmonton apartment for an after-party. All but one of the alleged assaults took place in McKnight's bedroom.

"It's completely improbable that each of the 12 women who testified misunderstood their night with Mr. McKnight," Crown prosecutor Katherine Fraser told the jury in closing arguments Monday. 

But Fraser said the women had different reactions to what happened to them.

"Some don't recall much, some froze, some remained mute, some said 'No' or 'Stop,' some admitted to performing other sexual acts and some fought back physically," Fraser said. 

A number of the complainants suggested McKnight drugged them before taking them to bed. 

That allegation was rejected by defence lawyer Dino Bottos during his closing arguments last week. 

"Let's get real," Bottos said. "There's not a single piece of hard evidence, medical evidence, any of these women was drugged. Nothing." 

In her charge to the jury Monday evening, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma cautioned the five men and five women about making assumptions.

"You must not assume the guilt of Mr. McKnight on any count, or all of them, simply from the number of complainants that have testified against him at this trial," Sulyma said. "This is not a popularity contest. Each count must be considered on its own merits." 

The judge also warned jury members not to use a verdict of guilty or not guilty on one of the counts to help them decide McKnight's guilt or innocence on other charges. 

"Even if you find that the accused committed one or more of the acts alleged, it does not mean that he committed all of the acts alleged by the complainants," she said. 

Sulyma began reading her charge to the jury at 3 p.m. Monday and concluded at 10 p.m. Jury members then retired to an Edmonton hotel for the night. They'll remain sequestered until they reach unanimous verdicts on all 13 counts, or until they have indicated they are unable to reach unanimous verdicts. 

'Do not associate promiscuous behaviour with a lack of credibility' 

McKnight testified for eight days. He admitted to having sex with 12 of the 13 women, but insisted it was consensual. In the case of the 13th complainant, McKnight said all they did was kiss. 

During cross-examination, McKnight admitted to having sexual relations with between 200 and 300 women between 2010 and 2016.

The judge warned the jury they should not infer from that admission that McKnight is a sexual predator. 

"One's desire to engage in sexual activity does not equate to behaviour of a sexual predator," Sulyma said. "Be extremely vigilant that you do not associate promiscuous behaviour with a lack of credibility."

In his closing argument, defence lawyer Bottos said the world is different from the one he grew up in.

"People under 30, 35, have been exposed to a far more robust celebration of sexual activity. Promiscuity, hookups, having multiple sexual partners can be celebrated," Bottos said.

Edmonton Police Service

He argued the women who testified had too many inconsistencies in their stories. He also suggested some of them fell prey to the power of suggestion after Edmonton police issued news releases about the case in August and September of 2016.

"It is not the defence's position that they are all deliberately untruthful, but the memory science shows how easy it is to create a false or illusory memory based on the power of suggestion," Sulyma said as she summed up the position of the defence. 

"When the police used the media release as the first step in their investigation, it created the conditions to have these complainants reinterpret their experiences in a way that aligned with the message they were hearing from investigators, the media, social media, and their friends."

Five of the complainants spoke to police and went to hospital almost immediately after their encounters with McKnight. The remaining women came forward after police issued news releases.