Warning: This report contains details of a sexual assault case, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Peter Charlie Tsetta either brutally raped two women after they passed out from drinking – forcibly confining them as they pleaded to leave – or he did not, in one case possibly being the victim of mistaken identity, two lawyers argued in court on Wednesday.
Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau listened for more than two hours in Supreme Court as defence lawyer Evan McIntyre and Crown prosecutor Annie Piche summed up their cases.
The final statements brought to a head a segmented trial that started in late May, and Charbonneau must now decide if Tsetta is guilty of the crimes. Her decision is expected in August.
Tsetta, 50, is charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement against two women at his Ndilo house – one on May 14, 2017, the other a month later.
“Mr Tsetta’s evidence was clear, it was cogent, and absolutely unassailed under cross-examination,” said McIntyre for the defence, noting his client flatly denied the crimes while on the stand.
“Mr Tsetta should be acquitted of all the charges before the court,” McIntyre declared, adding his client’s testimony should at the least raise a doubt in the judge’s mind.
Questioning the reliability and, in some instances, the credibility of the complainants’ testimony, McIntyre also focused on the following areas:
- The first complainant, a former girlfriend of Tsetta, died before the trial. Her testimony was allowed, in the form of a police statement and testimony she gave at a preliminary hearing. McIntyre was, therefore, unable to cross-examine her during this trial.
- There was a two-month gap between the alleged sexual assault and the first complainant’s statement to police, provided only after officers told her it was important to do so.
- The second complainant, a friend of Tsetta who drank in public with him and others in downtown Yellowknife, became argumentative under cross-examination when presented with certain facts that contradicted her testimony.
- Tsetta’s reputation in the community – he had done prison time for an aggravated assault on his ex-girlfriend in 2013, the same woman in this trial – could have resulted in “unreliable memories or allegations that are mistaken and untrue,” McIntyre claimed.
- The second woman could not account for a period of time when walking from Ndilo to downtown at night. She testified she could have been given a ride from someone, or she might have just dreamed that part. McIntyre suggested another man could have sexually assaulted her, causing the internal and sensitive physical injuries found the next day in hospital.
- McIntyre said the prosecution had made a “tactical” decision not to directly ask Tsetta if he had committed the crimes while under cross-examination.
Piche, the Crown prosecutor, countered that Tsetta had already denied the crime under questioning from his lawyer. To ask him again, said Piche, “would only be another opportunity for him to repeat his denial.”
The prosecutor disputed McIntyre’s description of Tsetta’s testimony, describing him as “evasive on key issues” but oddly detailed on others, such as the exact amount of liquor consumed with the two women.
Other areas focused on by Piche included:
- The two women’s testimonies of their encounters with Tsetta were quite similar – up until the point in the evening when they passed out.
- Tsetta’s ex-girlfriend had earlier said she woke up with him on top of her and, after promising she wouldn’t tell police, she was allowed to leave after a while. She fled to the nearby Vital Abel Boarding Home, where she showed up “upset, crying and sobbing.”
- Tsetta had testified his ex-girlfriend left after they had a fight and that she was very angry, not crying.
- As for the second woman, Tsetta testified she left his house to return downtown to find more cigarettes and alcohol. Piche noted both Tsetta and the woman testified they had been drinking and she either laid down to take a rest, or that she passed out. However, when she later showed up at her downtown home, her common-law partner said she looked “lost” and “more hungover, than anything else” – not drunk, Piche stated.
- The second complainant showed “genuine emotion” on the stand and “broke down in tears when describing sexual assaults, when she was shown pictures of her injuries.” Piche said her testimony was “very compelling.”
- “She had been through, basically, torture for a long period of time,” said Piche, noting the woman testified to having been sexually assaulted several times before convincing Tsetta to let her go.
Piche rejected defence claims of falsified testimony or mistaken identity. She also rebuffed suggestions the events couldn’t have taken place as they weren’t immediately reported.
“We should not make assumptions on how victims of sexual assault will react and how and when they will disclose what happened to them,” said Piche.
Justice Charbonneau reserved her decision until August 9 at 9:30am. Tsetta remains in custody.
Both of the incidents are alleged to have happened while Tsetta was on bail for an unrelated March 2017 sexual assault.
The decision, by a justice of the peace, to grant Tsetta’s bail sparked significant misgivings voiced by NWT victims’ advocates at the time.
The March 2017 charge has since been stayed by the Crown.