When a Newfoundland judge was about to sentence the captain of a fishing boat for trying to throw his wife into the sea, he suddenly found himself in a complicated legal position.
The captain's wife – the victim of the crime that had just been proven beyond a reasonable doubt – came forward to say that it never happened, that she invented everything because she was angry.
This was a problem, raising fears of a miscarriage of justice, and the judge's final solution is a rare illustration of the law of victims portraying criminal charges.
When he briefly reopened the trial last week, Judge Wayne Gorman had already convicted Trent John White of aggravated assault and battery and damages for throwing his wife Jessica Decker's cell phone in the North Atlantic during a fight over the use of opiates . White admitted to throwing the phone, but could not explain why and denied that he had beaten her.
As White said bluntly, if he "wanted to throw her into the sea, she would be in the sea."
I do not accept the evidence of Mrs. Decker as trustworthy or honest
But Judge Gorman did not believe his denials. He believed that the two crewmen aboard the boat in the Labrador Sea in the summer of 2017, fishing by trading, heard shouts from the back of the boat. They testified that they found White and Decker struggling, with Decker in the middle.
As Eustace Hewlin, a member of the crew, said: "Well, we heard a loud cry – I and (another member of the crew) were in the wheelhouse; I think we were either having a sandwich at the time, or I was, and then I heard a scream-like a desperate cry for help, and we both went back to the deck of the boat where we watched- Jessica was on the side of the boat with her clenched fist- her hand gripped the fish trays, and one leg was still on the boat. So immediately we just took Jessica and pulled her back and from there I do not know – I can not talk much later. "
In fact, if Decker had gone to sea, Hewlin testified, they would never have been able to recover it, given the rough seas.
In considering whether to pursue this new allegation that the victim lied, Judge Gorman ruled that the risk of wrongful conviction required him to interpret the law liberally and reopen the trial even after reaching guilty verdicts.
He decided that he could not refuse to hear from Decker for technical reasons simply because she had been summoned by the Crown and was present at the trial, but was not called as a witness by prosecution or defense.
Not calling her was "a reasonable and tactical decision taken by White's former lawyer," based on the fact that, as the attorney later explained in a deposition, she gave inconsistent versions of her recollections. White got a new lawyer after his conviction.
A tactical decision by the defense lawyer is usually not enough to justify reopening a trial, but Judge Gorman let Decker testify to see if that would alter his verdicts.
Does not make me change any of my verdicts
She said she lived with White in the spring and summer of 2017, and she has dependence on opiates, and he had alcohol, but their relationship was "great." At the time of the fishing trip, she had given him everything. his pills, so he could distribute them slowly to push her away. She said they would often fight, usually on her own initiative, and that was what happened on the day of the attack. She said she threatened to kill herself by jumping into the sea, and White said to go ahead. She said she tried to make it sound like he was hurting her, and that's how they faced each other when the other two crewmembers intervened.
She did not report the attack until several months later when she spoke to the police after they responded to reports that he was attacking her on a road.
She was interviewed by an officer, but as she told Judge Gorman, she lied and exaggerated for two reasons: turning back to White and deflecting police suspicion of her drug possession and the fact that she had just driven a vehicle. She claimed she was very tall during the interview, but the police officer found her sober and did not care about her state of mind.
Then Judge Gorman reopened the trial and heard it, but it had no effect on the convictions. She concluded that Decker was not being honest and that her resignation was "purposely false" and intended to help her husband, who faces a meaningful prison sentence.
"I do not accept Mrs. Decker's evidence as trustworthy or honest. No, in the context of all the evidence presented, I have a reasonable doubt. It does not make me alter any of my verdicts, "Gorman wrote in his new ruling this week.