N.L. man accused of sexually assaulting teen after breaking into her home represents himself in court

·3 min read
Stephen Hopkins, accused of breaking into a St. John's home and sexually assaulting a teenager, declined help from a lawyer at his Supreme Court trial. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)
Stephen Hopkins, accused of breaking into a St. John's home and sexually assaulting a teenager, declined help from a lawyer at his Supreme Court trial. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)

A Newfoundland man accused of sexually assaulting a teenager after breaking into her home has opted to represent himself in provincial Supreme Court, at times throwing his trial into upheaval Tuesday as he led his first cross-examination without a lawyer by his side.

Stephen Hopkins, 31, is charged with sexual assault and counts of breaking and entering, forcible confinement and breach of court order after police found him in the Cowan Heights area in September 2020.

The complainant, 17 at the time of Hopkins's alleged crime, testified Monday. According to the Telegram, she said Hopkins said good morning to her as he pushed a cart of recyclables down a west-end St. John's street.

She testified Hopkins, whom she'd never seen before, asked her for a glass of water after they exchanged pleasantries.

When she returned to her front door with the glass, she said he pushed his way inside, tore her clothes off and carried her upstairs, where he sexually assaulted her, the Telegram reported.

Hopkins has declined the help of a court-appointed lawyer, instead choosing to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses himself.

But his attempts to do so on Tuesday prompted Justice Donald Burrage to repeatedly interrupt Hopkins's often lengthy and disordered lines of questioning to ask for clarification.

The interruptions often stalled the trial while Burrage explained how the justice system operates.

Burrage's discussions with Hopkins, as the justice attempted to guide the accused through the court process, ranged from whether dogs can feel humanlike emotions to the definition of the word "disparagement."

Hopkins at one point accused a witness — a police officer who responded the day of his arrest — of insulting him as Hopkins sat in the back of his patrol car.

"You called me a rat," said Hopkins.

"I never called anyone a rat," the officer replied.

Burrage interjected, asking Hopkins for clarification: did the officer actually say the word "rat"?

"Not in those words. That's the essence," Hopkins replied. "He told me in tone and body language."

3 neighbours testify

Hopkins frequently lapsed into monologues on Tuesday, at one point speculating about the social function of gossip while cross-examining a witness.

Throughout his questioning, Hopkins repeatedly referred to his past brushes with the law, asking one witness outright whether he would be predisposed to suspect Hopkins of committing a crime if he'd known about his past sexual offences.

"I would be," the witness said, visibly agitated.

"Of course, of course," Hopkins said, marking his notebook. "I'm going to put that down as a prejudice. The Crown can argue that if she sees appropriate."

Crown attorney Jennifer Standen called three neighbours to the witness stand, two of whom told the court they helped the complainant as her alleged attacker fled.

They all testified the complainant ran out of her house crying and distraught.

Hopkins pressed one witness about the complainant's disposition that morning. When there's hysteria, he suggested, isn't there sometimes also laughter?

"There was no laughing," the witness told him gravely.

Hopkins is no stranger to the courtroom. He's listed on the sex offender registry, placed there for a decade after he was convicted of attacking two women on Long Pond trail in St. John's in 2019.

He was cleared of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon charges in 2014, when a judge decided he acted in self-defence after stabbing a man during a confrontation in the city's west end a year earlier.

Hopkins returns to court Wednesday.

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