Benji Barnes broke in and ‘remained there without her consent in order to assault her’ while her children were present, judge rules
Though Benji Barnes insisted a Mount Pearl woman had invited him to visit her at home for sex one night last October, his Facebook messages told a different story, a judge ruled Friday.
"I'm coming up to talk tonight," read one message, quoted in provincial court in St. John's Friday by Judge Mike Madden.
Barnes had sent the message to the woman on the day in question, the judge said.
"No you're not," was the woman's reply. "I'm getting an order so you can't call me off the hook or come near me or my kids. Now get off my Facebook account and leave me alone, Benji!"
The messages, uncovered by RNC investigators after they had seized Barnes' cellphones, were a particularly telling piece of evidence in the case against him, Madden said, in that they presented a snapshot into the mindset of Barnes and the woman at that time.
"He, desperate to get back together; she insisting that he stay away," the judge explained.
Madden convicted Barnes, 37, of breaking into the woman's house, sexually assaulting her, physically assaulting her, and threatening her as well as her children.
Barnes attended court via videolink from Her Majesty's Penitentiary, though members of his family were present in the courtroom as Madden brought down the verdict.
The woman, who did not attend court for the decision, testified last month that she had dozed off in bed watching TV with her two young children on the night of Oct. 26, when she was woken up by Barnes touching her leg. She yelled at him, she said, before he asked her kids to go to their own room and locked them outside the master bedroom.
The woman said Barnes grabbed her throat and took her into the bathroom, where he choked her and threatened to kill her children as she tried to scream for help. Her children, she said, heard everything and were screaming, too.
The woman told the court Barnes then dragged her back to the bedroom and pinned her to the floor, where he told her to stop fighting. She pretended to pass out for a period of time, she said, hoping he would leave. Instead, he lifted her shirt and put his mouth on her breast before partially removing her pants, unzipping his own, and attempting to have intercourse with her. Barnes told her that he was "probably" going to kill her, she said.
After that, the woman said, Barnes forced her to accompany him to her basement for a cigarette, where he handed her the house phone and directed her to call his cellphone and leave him a voicemail asking him to come over for a "booty call." He told her to do a line of cocaine with him, she testified.
"I was never so scared in my life," the woman told the court. "I honestly thought I could die."
The woman said she noticed a broken basement window after Barnes left, and figured that's how he got into her home. She called a neighbour, who called police.
RNC officers escorted the woman to hospital, where nurses performed a sexual assault exam. Swabs taken during the exam were later found by forensic experts to include Barnes' DNA on the woman's nipple, and male DNA, though not enough to determine a specific profile, in her vagina and on her neck. The woman had bruising on her neck and minor injuries to her face, leg, shoulder, arm and chest.
Photos taken by police showed damage to a basement window and disarray in the bedroom and bathroom of the woman's home, Madden noted Friday.
"There was a fair amount of physical evidence, or evidence obtained independently of the principal statements," he said.
When it was his turn to testify, Barnes said he had gone to the woman's home that night because she had invited him there, having arranged the time a night earlier. The plan was that he would pay her for sex, he said, as they had done in the past.
Barnes told the court he had lied and told police he wasn't at the woman's house at all that night, because he knew it was illegal to pay for sex and he was embarrassed to admit it.
Barnes said the sexual contact between them had been consensual, and stopped when he saw a hickey on her neck from someone else.
"I wasn't angry," he testified. "I just didn't understand why she left me for a loser with no income, but I wasn't angry."
"During the statement, when asked if forensics would turn up something to show he was there that night, he said 'No, it shouldn't.’ We know that it did," Madden said. "Now, after the fact, his testimony complies with the DNA samples, but he admits nothing beyond that. I find that he has given two completely inconsistent accounts."
Madden noted the woman had not been entirely consistent in her evidence either, but said the discrepancies pertained to minor details in her retelling of what she described as a traumatic event that her children had witnessed, and not the elements of the crimes.
"If her testimony was letter-perfect in those circumstances, I would be very surprised indeed," the judge said.
He said that while it may not be typical for a victim of a violent crime to share a cigarette with the offender afterward, it was "perfectly understandable" for the woman to comply with Barnes' requests, given her fear and desire to protect her children.
Given all the evidence presented, Madden said, he didn't believe Barnes' version of events.
"I find that on the date in question, the accused, unwilling to walk away from the relationship as evidenced by the messages, went to the home of the complainant against her wishes as evident from the messages, broke into the home and sexually assaulted and assaulted her, as she described and as is consistent with the physical evidence," Madden said. "Whether he obtained entry through the window or some other way, I know not, but I find he entered without consent of the complainant and remained there without her consent in order to assault her."
Barnes will return to court in the coming weeks for a sentencing hearing.