Closing arguments in former Sask. hockey coach's sexual assault trial heard
-- The following story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
Lawyers delivered their final arguments before a judge on Friday, capping off the week-long sex assault trial for former Saskatchewan junior hockey coach Bernie Lynch.
In the eyes of the defense, it is a he said, he said case.
“No one will ever really know what happened that day except for Bernard Lynch and [the complainant],” defense lawyer Andrew Hitchcock said in his closing remarks, reminding the judge that his client is still presumed innocent.
“The default is to come to the conclusion that it’s better to let ten guilty people go than put one innocent person in prison.”
Lynch, 69, is on trial for one count of sexual assault and one count of assault against a 17-year-old boy. The alleged incidents took place in August 1988 when the complainant claimed he was helping Lynch instruct a hockey school put on by the Regina Pats.
The complainant, who testified earlier this week, described in detail how Lynch sexually assaulted him in the shower. Prior to the assault, the complainant told the court that he was staying at Lynch’s apartment for one night as part of the accommodations provided by the Pats. He testified the coach bought beer for them, suggested they rent an adult film and offered for the teen to bunk in his bed because that’s what hockey players do on the road.
The accused denies the allegations and claims he was out of province at a coach's conference and separate hockey tournament at the time the alleged incidents took place.
On Thursday, Lynch testified he invited the complainant, a junior hockey player at the time, to help coach the hockey school in Regina. Lynch said he met the teen at a gas station two days before the camp was set to begin, helped him check into his hotel and showed him to the hockey rink that same night. Lynch claims that was the extent of their interactions before he got onto a plane to Calgary the next morning.
“There’s no evidence that this is wrong, that this isn’t true other than the complainant,” Hitchcock told the judge.
“[Lynch’s] version is not implausible.”
While under oath, Lynch changed his answers when asked several times if it was possible he took the teen to his apartment. He originally told the defense it was possible, before backtracking and telling the Crown he was certain he did not go to his apartment with the teen.
Hitchcock chalked up the contradicting answers to nerves.
“This is a highly emotional situation for Mr. Lynch. He’s accused of molesting a teenager. Even though he’s presumed innocent, there’s no publication ban to protect his identity. His name is out there. His face is out there and has been for a long time. This kind of stress wears on a person,” Hitchcock said.
“In 35 years his name has been completely tarnished. Even if he’s vindicated by an acquittal in this trial, to be vindicated in the eyes of the public is likely not possible for him.”
However, Crown prosecutor Chris White called it “suspect” that Lynch couldn’t give a direct answer to the question.
“What else is he unsure of? What else is he not telling us? What else is he leaving out?” White questioned.
White agreed with the defense that the evidence does not leave “much wiggle room” when it comes to determining what happened.
“There’s no gray here. It happened or it didn’t. There’s nothing in between,” White said in court.
However, White argued some of Lynch’s testimony actually corroborated the alleged victim’s evidence.
Both the complainant and the accused agreed there is a “culture of silence” within the hockey community, especially back in the 1980s.
“What happens on the road, stays on the road”, White said, suggesting that way of thinking served as a mitigating risk factor for Lynch to carry out the alleged offence.
White argued the complainant’s evidence is reliable and credible, and should be believed based on the amount of detail given in his testimony.
On the other hand, White argued Lynch’s testimony was inconsistent and “a study in contrast.” White said, at times, the accused was combative and evasive, while at other moments he was cordial and candid.
“Mr. Lynch’s evidence was less about informing you and more about persuading you,” White told the judge.
“You should not believe him when he said he wasn’t there.”
White ended his arguments by telling the judge it would be unsafe not to convict Lynch.
The judge is expected to deliver his decision on Dec. 1.
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