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Bell Island man pleads guilty to sexual and physical assault of teen girl

A sheriff removes Jason Arnold's handcuffs prior to the start of proceedings in provincial court in St. John's Tuesday afternoon.
A sheriff removes Jason Arnold's handcuffs prior to the start of proceedings in provincial court in St. John's Tuesday afternoon. - Tara Bradbury

Jason Arnold will be sentenced on April 5

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Crown and defence lawyers are far apart when it comes to their suggestions for an appropriate sentence, but it's clear there's more jail time in Jason Arnold's future.

The 23-year-old Bell Island man pleaded guilty in provincial court in St. John's Tuesday to sexual assault, having engaged in a sexual relationship with an underage girl that resulted in her getting pregnant.

Arnold also entered guilty pleas to charges of assaulting the girl and breaching court orders by refusing to stay away from her.

The girl's mother contacted police last summer, and told them that her daughter was pregnant and Arnold, whose age she hadn't realized until then, was the father.

Another family member advised police that the girl had told her, when revealing she was pregnant, that she and Arnold had been having sex "for a while." The girl's pregnancy did not reach full term.

Arnold was arrested, charged and released on conditions, including that he have no contact with the girl, but was taken into custody later that month, after the teenager's family reported to police that she and Arnold were still spending time together.

Police located Arnold and the girl together and arrested Arnold, who was charged with breaching a court order and spent a night in custody before being released again.

Last December, Arnold was arrested after the girl told police he had assaulted her multiple times over the course of a weekend together in St. John's, kicking her in the ribs, smacking her in the face, throwing her and threatening to kill her. The court heard the teenager was crying and fearful as she gave her statement to investigators.

"The courts have made it very clear: sexual assault is sexual assault." — Tanis King, Crown prosecutor

Arnold was denied bail and has been in custody ever since.

Prosecutor Tannis King argued Tuesday afternoon for a jail sentence of 4 1/2 years for Arnold, stressing the girl was not able to consent to the sexual relationship, and Arnold's repeated refusal to obey court orders to stay away from her.

By law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual activity with a person more than four years older than they are. If the activity involves certain aspects such as a position of trust, the age of consent is 18 years. All sexual activity without consent is a crime.

Sexual activity with a person under 16 years of age can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

"The courts have made it very clear: sexual assault is sexual assault," King told Judge David Orr, stressing the girl's inability to consent to intercourse with Arnold, even if she was willing.

The fact that it resulted in the girl becoming pregnant is an aggravating factor, King said.

King also requested Arnold be placed on the national sex offender registry for 20 years.

Defence lawyer Amanda Barfitt argued for a total jail sentence of 19 months for Arnold, minus credit for the time he has spent on remand.

Barfitt told the court her client has no prior criminal record and has a supportive family, but had witnessed domestic violence as a child, which was "certainly very relevant to his background and what shaped him."

She said Arnold is on the waitlist at Her Majesty's Penitentiary for sex offender counselling, and has expressed an interest in anger management counselling as well.

"He is very much in the wrong and he accepts he did know her age while the relationship was ongoing," Barfitt said. "He has spoken to me at length about his remorse, regret, and says he never should have put his hands on her. He wanted to plead guilty right away."

Orr will return with his sentencing decision April 5.

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