Messages point to coach’s guilt

| 01/08/2017 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The direct evidence against Trinidad track star, Ato Stephens, accused of indecently assaulting one of his charges while coaching athletics comes only from the teenage girl but the director of public prosecutions said the stream of indecent messages he sent to her also point to his guilt. As the trial drew to a close Tuesday, Cheryl Richards QC emphasised the messages, which are a separate charge, as also supporting the charges of indecent assault and gross indecency. But Stephens’ attorney argued there was no direct link and the messages were not proof of guilt of the other charges.

As the crown summed up its case and visiting attorney Paul Keler QC summarised his client’s defence, the court heard conflicting views from the lawyers over the importance of the messages and pictures exchanged between the girl, who was 14 and 15 at the time, and her coach, who was 37, to the rest of the charges. Stephens has admitted sending the messages and asking for naked and semi-naked pictures of the young girl but has denied that they were abusive and denied any physical contact with the teen as he said that they were never alone.

The teenager said, however, that in addition to the messages, which the court has heard amounted to “sexting”, the couple also had some physical contact. She accepts that they were rarely alone but she said on two occasions he put his hands down her pants and touched her vagina and on a third occasion he exposed his penis and asked her to touch it.

Justice Michael Wood, who has heard the case without a jury, said he hoped to deliver his verdict on Thursday but not before he heard the arguments from the two QCs, who had very different positions on the case.

Richards told the judge that the messages were not only indecent and illustrated at the very least Stephens’ inappropriate attraction to his teen athlete but also the content gave an indication that there was some contact between the two. The prosecutor said the messages support the teen’s general account of what happened between them and said comments about “missing the Friday ting” which they sent to each other appeared to indicate a past pattern of contact between them.

The prosecutor also pointed out that because of Stephens’ frequent directions to the teen to delete the messages, which she did, the evidence is limited to two batches of messages across the year-long relationship between them, but there was still persistent and significant phone contact between them and indications throughout of their regrets over their lack of contact and efforts to try to meet up.

Richards argued that the teen had no motivation to exaggerate the conduct and lie about the three instances. She also pointed to the many occasions when the coach spoke in graphic detail about the sexual acts he wanted to perform and they also appear to imply the couple had engaged in some kind of sexual activity. Richards also pressed home the point that Stephens’ evident sexual interest in the girl made it hard to believe he did not pursue contact when the opportunity, albeit rarely, presented itself.

Keler, however, argued very differently. He pointed to evidence from some of the teen witnesses also at the athletic club who had spoken about being taken home as a group by the coach after practice and that none of them could recall a situation when the young girl would have been dropped off last by the coach, leaving her alone in the car as she had claimed. He said that the pair had never been alone in the car together and the messages gave no indication that they ever had.

The defence lawyer argued that there was no evidence of coercion by the coach as claimed by the teenager and that she was a willing participant in the sexting, which was as far as the relationship went.

He said that Stephens was “excruciatingly embarrassed” and ashamed of his conduct. He said it was very difficult having to talk about the messages and asking the child for pictures in open court, but his evasiveness on the stand was a result of that and not evidence of his guilt of the other charges. He accepted the messages were indecent but they were not threatening or abusive.

Keler said the messages didn’t “reflect well on Mr Stephens” but he argued his client had never done the things he may have messaged her about, even when the teen had tried to arrange for them to be alone in the car. He pointed to messages that appeared to be Stephens fobbing off the teen, who he claims had a crush on him, and the apparent rarity of the two of them ever being alone together.

The lawyer suggested the teen was motivated to exaggerate the situation to reduce what culpability she wrongly believed she may have had in the situation. Keler said it was not for the defence to provide motivation for a complainant but he believed that in this case, in an effort to evade what she thought was the trouble she would be in, she claimed to have been coerced and added the touching allegation to bolster the idea that she was a victim rather than a willing participant.

Keler said that Stephens did not have the opportunity to be alone with the girl and that despite the content of the messages it was never a physical relationship. He added that the “our ting” the couple had spoken about was the mutual sexting, not physical contact.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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