Dementia clouded victim’s memory, claims defence

| 08/04/2016 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman Islands courthouse

(CNS): Lawyers representing a Canadian woman accused of stealing more than $2 million from an elderly Australian man when they were living together in Cayman have pointed to the man’s failing memory as the root cause of what they say are false allegations. James Bruce Handford (87) is now suffering from dementia and therefore unable to give evidence in the trial of Michelle Bouchard (55) but the crown was able to read statements to the jury that were made before his health deteriorated setting out the accusations against the women he had at one time wanted to marry.

Unable to cross-examine the key witness in the case, the defence team was given permission to address the jury with the questions they would have liked to ask Handford and the reasons why. Peter Carter QC, who is leading the defence, said that the crown was painting the wrong picture of the truth and what really happened in the relationship, as he claimed his client was given permission to access accounts and was given generous gifts by Handford, who was willing to pay for the woman he wanted.

In his statements, however, Hanford claimed that Bouchard had stolen large amounts of money from him and wanted her prosecuted. While he agreed that he had given Bouchard permission to take money from a joint account, there were limitations. He told the local police that he was unaware of the extent of the money transferred out of the joint account to Bouchard’s personal account and was surprised to learn it added up to millions of dollars.

However, Carter suggested to the jury that the crown’s claims Bouchard had taken advantage of a frail old man were incorrect. The lawyer said Hanford may have been in his eighties but he was by no means frail. He was a very wealthy man who was very outgoing, rode a motorbike and flew his own helicopter. The defence disputed the prosecution’s case that Bouchard tried to hide much of the money taken from the joint account and showed the jury 139 transactions that were conducted while Handford was in Cayman and a cheque of $500,000 to Bouchard that they said Handford had written.

The defence claimed Handford was prepared to spend money on Bouchard because he wanted to be with her. This was supported, Carter said, by evidence of him buying her very expensive jewellery and paying many of her bills. Hanford wanted their friendship to move to a sexual relationship and get engaged, the defence said. But as he began to suffer with dementia over the years of their relationship, he began to forget what he had permitted Bouchard to do with the money in their joint account.

Carter told the jury it was Handford’s forgetfulness that had caused Bouchard to be before the court but he had once been a man willing pay for the woman he wanted.

After Hanford’ statements were read to the court, Dr Denise Osterloh, who was treating his dementia, confirmed email communication from Bouchard that appeared to indicated that the defendant was caring for him and concerned for his well-being as the illness began to take a hold. The defence said the correspondence was not the act of someone who was trying to take advantage of an ill man as the crown has claimed.

But the crown then called a forensic document examiner, Frank Norwitch, who told the court it was his opinion that the signature on a credit card pre-authorisation used for the partial purchase of a  $201,000 engagement ring was not Handford’s but a forger trying to make the signature look like a real one. The defence tried to discredit his abilities to determine the validity of the signature and highlighted inconsistencies in his forensic report. They also pointed to Hanford’s statement to police where he said he could not remember if he had signed the pre-authorisation.

The case continues Friday.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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