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Justice

Yellowknife man found not guilty of sexual assault 


Opening the door of Yellowknife’s women’s shelter one night in May 2018, a worker found a “crying and hysterical” woman, clothed only in a parka shell and boots.

The woman had been drinking with an acquaintance in his apartment on Gitzel Street that day along with two other people. She told the shelter employee the man had raped her and she fled his apartment — leaving her clothing behind — after waking and telling him she had to go to the bathroom.

Police were called and the following morning, as the patrol vehicle pulled up to the apartment building, Leon Nasken had just emerged to get some fresh air.

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“In the morning, I was hungover … pretty sick … there was an officer there … I was arrested for sexual assault. I knew it was a pretty serious charge,” Nasken, 67, said after taking the stand in his own defence Tuesday in NWT Supreme Court.

“Why would I do something like that to [the complainant]? She was over there [at my place] all the time. She’s there all the time and I would never harm her or anything. She’s always welcome.”

As he was still intoxicated when arrested, Nasken testified the RCMP held him for eight hours in order to sober him up.

At some point, a search warrant was obtained and police found the woman’s clothing in Nasken’s bedroom.

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The woman testified that’s also the room Nasken invited her into to smoke some marijuana that night around 8pm.

The two other people in the apartment at the time had long since passed out in the living room.

Nasken said he had little memory of the night or the events of the preceding day.

“I can’t really recall [very much] … I was drinking and playing guitar and  I was tired and I went to sleep. I didn’t do nothing — I can’t — it’s not in my nature,” recalled the man born and raised in Behchokǫ̀.

Nasken testified he had become impotent over the years, starting when he turned 60.

The court heard his DNA was not found anywhere on the woman nor her clothing and none of her DNA was found on his genitals.

While the woman had been to Nasken’s apartment numerous times, she initially told officials she had never been there before that night in 2018, when she bumped into Nasken near a convenience store. 

Crown prosecutor Sarah Arngna’naaq on Tuesday asked Justice Andrew Mahar to overcome that “one glaring issue,” as the rest of the woman’s testimony had remained consistent.

“There are issues with her evidence, and I’m not going to shy away from that,” the prosecutor said. “She admitted that there was one part of her evidence where she did mislead the court, RCMP and the Crown. That said … it does not speak to the allegations here in any way.”

The complainant’s change in testimony under cross-examination last November resulted in an adjournment of the first jury trial in the NWT since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A mistrial was averted after it was agreed the jury would be dismissed and the trial moved from the Explorer Hotel to the Yellowknife Courthouse.

On Tuesday, Justice Mahar found Nasken not guilty.

Mahar said the complainant’s “complete reversal” on key testimony raised concerns about her reliability as a witness. 

“I am suspicious because of the supporting evidence of the worker at the women’s shelter and the presence of the clothing in Mr. Nasken’s residence,” he said. “But the test is a strict one and the onus on the Crown is heavy and I have to say that I’m not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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