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Defendant testifies he did not break into complainant’s home, she invited him over
Warning: Graphic content in this story might disturb some readers.
Taking the stand at his own trial Monday, Benji Barnes admitted he had lied to police about having visited a woman's Mount Pearl home one night last fall. He was adamant, however, that he had not broken in, choked her, sexually assaulted her or threatened her or her children.
Barnes, 37, was the last witness to testify at his trial, which has now wrapped up in provincial court.
"No," Barnes said when asked by his lawyer if he had committed any of the crimes against the woman and her two children. "No, I did not."
The woman testified last week, saying she had dozed off in bed watching TV with her two young children the night of Oct. 26, when she was woken up by Barnes touching her leg. She yelled at him, she said, before Barnes asked her kids to go to their own room and locked them outside of the master bedroom.
The woman told the court Barnes grabbed her throat and took her to the bathroom, where he choked her and threatened to kill her children as she tried to scream and bang on the wall in an effort to alert her neighbours.
"My kids could hear everything," the woman said, pausing as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. "They were screaming. They know even more than I remember about the assault."
The woman said Barnes then dragged her back to the bedroom and pinned her to the floor.
"I was just fighting and trying to breathe and I remember he said, 'Don't fight it, just fall asleep and you'll wake up tomorrow,'" the woman testified. "I couldn't get him off, he was too strong for me, so I played asleep. I guess I wanted him to think I was passed out."
Barnes lifted her shirt and put his mouth on her breast before partially removing her pants and unzipping his own and attempting to have intercourse with her, she testified. She said Barnes told her he was "probably" going to kill her.
The woman said Barnes then forced her to come with him to her basement, 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 then told her to do a line of cocaine with him, she testified.
"I was never so scared in my life," the woman said. "I honestly thought I could die. I wanted to leave, so I would have said or done anything to get out of that situation.”
Barnes left through the back door, she testified, telling her that he was going to get more cocaine and would return. She noticed a broken basement window, she said, and figured that's how Barnes had gotten in.
Barnes told the court he had gone to the woman's home that night because she had invited him there, having arranged the time with him a night earlier. The plan was that he would pay her for sex, he said, as they had done in the past.
During the woman's testimony, she said Barnes had sometimes bought groceries for her and her children in exchange for sex.
Barnes testified he had lied and told police he wasn't at the woman's home that night, because he knew it was illegal to pay for sex and because he was embarrassed to admit it.
He said he had called the woman multiple times earlier in the day to confirm the meeting, but didn’t get a response.
"So you assumed it was a go?" defence lawyer Stephen Orr asked Barnes.
"Yes, well, she let me in the front door," Barnes replied. He said he had spent a minute with the woman's children and turned the TV on for them before joining the woman upstairs in bed.
"We started getting into it and I was about to take my boxers off when (she) asked me to show her the money. I turned on the light and saw a hickey on her neck from someone else. I made an obscene comment," Barnes testified.
Barnes told the court the woman shoved him and he shoved her back before he went to the basement for a cigarette. He then left, he said, stopping at a friend's house, a bar, and the Mount Pearl hotel to talk to his brother before going home. He was arrested by RNC officers hours later, he said.
Upon cross-examination, prosecutor Shawn Patten asked Barnes whether he had been angry because the woman had a new boyfriend at the time.
"No," Barnes replied. "I wasn't angry. I just didn't understand why she left me for a loser with no income, but I wasn't angry."
"Sir, she didn't want you up there that night, did she?" Patten asked.
"Yes, she did," Barnes replied. "She let me in. She needed money. She was broke, as usual."
Patten showed Barnes forensic photos taken of the woman on the night of the alleged assault, showing red marks on her neck. Barnes told the court he hadn't caused them, and hadn't seen them on the woman's neck when he was at her home.
When asked if he had threatened the woman's children, Barnes replied, "No, I loved her children. I wouldn't threaten any child."
Patten presented Barnes with a log of Facebook Messenger messages obtained by police from a phone Barnes was carrying when he was arrested. In some cases, it appeared the woman had been exchanging messages with a second account under her name, and she told the court last week it was because Barnes had hacked into that account and was using it to contact her.
Barnes acknowledged on the stand Monday that was true, but said he couldn't remember sending some of the messages to the woman. He said he hadn't sent some of the other messages.
"I’m coming up to talk tonight," read one message the woman received. Barnes said he probably sent it, but couldn't say for sure.
"No you're not. 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 and leave me alone, Benji!" read the woman's reply.
"Do you recognize that response?" Patten asked Barnes on the stand.
"No, I didn't see it until it was mentioned in court," Barnes replied.
Barnes confirmed he had written a message to the woman shortly before 11:30 p.m., saying, "Are you serious, you ask me up for a booty call and you call the cops?"
The woman was also cross-examined in court Monday, with Orr focusing on the Facebook conversation as well, particularly a message the woman had sent in the days after the alleged assault, telling Barnes, "Every dog has its day."
"Would you agree with me that that was a revenge message?" Orr asked her.
"No. If I wanted to get revenge, I would have called his family," the woman replied, adding that Barnes had contacted members of her family in the past.
Orr also asked the woman about her numerous Facebook accounts, alleging she used them to purchase drugs through Messenger. The woman admitted having purchased Ritalin illegally through the messaging app in the past, but said she had been forced to make the multiple accounts when Barnes kept hacking into them.
Orr pointed about the small size of the basement window, asking the woman if a man Barnes' size could fit through it. The woman said she didn't know.
The defence lawyer also referenced the findings of a sexual assault exam performed on the woman at the hospital the night of the alleged incident. Swabs of blood taken from the front and back of the woman's shirt, as well as a swab taken from her nipple, matched Barnes' DNA profile. Vaginal swabs and swabs taken from the woman's neck were found to contain male DNA, but not enough to determine a specific profile.
"Mr. Barnes is going to deny that there was vaginal sex. Are you sure it happened?" Orr asked the woman.
"I'm positive," she responded. "It happened."
Barnes' case will be called again in provincial court May 24, when Orr and Patten will present their closing arguments to Judge Mike Madden.