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Police officers, complainant’s best friend take the stand at sexual assault trial of John Roberts in St. John’s

John Roberts stands in the dock behind his lawyer, Rosellen Sullivan, as the second day of his trial gets underway in provincial court in St. John’s Tuesday. Roberts has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally harassing a woman and sexually assaulting her with a beer bottle.
John Roberts stands in the dock behind his lawyer, Rosellen Sullivan, as the second day of his trial gets underway in provincial court in St. John’s Tuesday. Roberts has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally harassing a woman and sexually assaulting her with a beer bottle. - Tara Bradbury

Crown expected to close its case today, defence has more witnesses to call

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The woman hadn’t seen her best friend in more than a month when they got together in September 2017, with work schedules and family commitments having made their summer busy, she said. Making impromptu plans to hang out one night at her house, the woman said she noticed her friend seemed anxious when she arrived, like there was something particular she wanted to talk about. She asked her friend if she was OK.

“I’ve known her for decades and she’s not one to show her emotions,” the woman said on the witness stand in provincial court Wednesday. “She started crying and literally broke down on the couch.”

The woman was testifying at the trial of John Roberts, 51, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally harassing a woman over a period of about a month early last year, as well as sexually assaulting her with a weapon — a beer bottle — during the summer of 2017.

It was the alleged sexual assault that had caused the complainant to break down in tears, her friend told the court. The woman said her friend had told her she and Roberts had been engaged in consensual sexual activity one night in August, and it had ended when Roberts picked up a beer bottle.

John Roberts. - Twitter photo
John Roberts. - Twitter photo

“She was telling me how she was like, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want this,’“ the woman said. “She was telling me about how much it hurt. She was like, ‘I can still feel it burning in my cervix.’ I don’t know if she meant physically or mentally. She was very upset.”

The woman said her friend told her Roberts had joked with her about the alleged assault the next day.

“I told her, ‘You should talk to someone about that. That sounds like a sexual assault, and it sounds like a sexual assault with a weapon,’“ the woman testified. “I told her she should also see a doctor because it could have lasting implications for her.”

Wednesday was the third of four scheduled days of trial for Roberts, who is a businessman and was an unsuccessful mayoral candidate for the Town of Paradise in 2017. Prosecutor Nicole Hurley called a number of witnesses to fill in gaps in the narrative presented by the complainant earlier in the week. Along with the woman’s best friend, three RNC officers testified about their involvement in the criminal harassment portion of the case.

One officer spoke of having responded to a call for service at Roberts’ residence in January of last year, arriving with other RNC members to find Roberts had fallen on stairs inside his home and had gotten his leg stuck in the bannister. He didn’t want an ambulance, she said, but asked officers to contact the complainant and ask her to come over. The constable said she had called the woman twice and had gotten no answer before another officer went to her home. The constable said she was later informed that the woman had declined to come to Roberts’ residence.

Another RNC officer testified about having received a call to attend the complainant’s residence a few days later to a report of property damage, and arriving to find her vehicle had been spray-painted with the words “Two-dollar whore.” Another vehicle in the driveway had also been vandalized, he said, and a gas can had been left on the woman’s doorstep. The woman had told him she suspected Roberts was responsible, the officer testified.

“She said he had made a comment previously about having money and that he could pay anyone to do anything, but she had no proof,” the police officer told the court. “I understood that to mean she believed he could have paid someone to do it.”

The officer said he took the gas can to be examined for DNA, saying he took it to be a serious threat. He organized a nightly patrol past the woman’s house.

The third officer was the witness who spent the longest on the stand Wednesday. He spoke in detail of having investigated the woman’s allegations that Roberts had been calling her excessively. Because the calls to the woman’s cellphone had been coming from a blocked caller ID — the way Roberts’ calls had always come, she testified earlier in the week — the investigator said he needed a judge to grant him a warrant to access the woman’s information from her cellphone service provider.

“Anyone using a blocked number has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the RNC officer explained.

When he eventually obtained information he needed, the officer said he was able to confirm that the majority of the woman’s allegations of phone calls from Roberts, including dates and times, had come from three phone numbers registered to him.

“I believed, Your Honour, based on my conversations and what I learned from this investigation, that the calls created fear (in the complainant),” the officer testified, explaining his grounds for laying the criminal harassment charge.

Defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan objected a number of times to the officer’s ability to explain certain details in the phone records when it came to how the calls were recorded and why they were presented in the documents in a particular way. Sullivan noted the officer’s explanation was hearsay, since he had not been qualified as an expert in cellphone data. Hurley argued the information was part of the officer’s explanation for how he came to charge Roberts with harassment and Judge Jacqueline Brazil agreed, but said she accepted Sullivan’s point and would consider it when deciding how much weight to give to that part of the testimony.

Sullivan had just begun her cross-examination of the RNC officer when court adjourned for the day, pointing out inconsistencies between the complainant’s testimony that Roberts had not left her any voicemail and the officer’s testimony that the records indicated at least one voicemail had been left on her phone.

On Tuesday, Sullivan cross-examined the complainant, suggesting she had never been afraid of Roberts and had fabricated her evidence about the sexual assault, which she hadn’t reported to police for 10 months. The woman had been angry because she believed Roberts had reported her to child protection authorities, Sullivan alleged.

“No. You are so wrong,” the woman responded.

Sullivan will continue her cross-examination of the officer today. The Crown is expected to close its case once that is complete, and the defence is expected to call a number of witnesses to provide brief testimony before the trial wraps up. The lawyers are scheduled to make their closing arguments next week.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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