Former elder guilty of sex assault

The Record, Canada/December 20, 2006
By Dianne Wood

A former Jehovah's Witness elder has been convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl who attended his congregation.

Justice Michael Epstein said Claude Martin's evidence at his trial was "completely unreasonable."

He was skeptical of Martin's precise recall of an incident in 2000 or 2001 when he went door-to-door with the girl to pass out Jehovah's Witness literature.

The girl testified Martin put his hand on her buttock and extended his finger and put pressure on her vagina over her clothes during a brief moment while they stood alone on a landing of the home.

Martin, 77, had made many such visits with that girl and other children in the church over the years, and would have no reason to recall details of that visit unless something happened to make that day stand out, the judge said.

"Claude Martin professed an incredible memory of this event," Epstein said.

He suggested Martin may have been "inventing" his evidence. Martin testified that he might have inadvertently touched the girl while shifting his briefcase from one hand to another as they were standing in the small space.

Recalling that and other details "defies and stretches credulity and common sense to the breaking point," Epstein said.

He described Martin's testimony as "sarcastic, aggressive, testy and argumentative. There was an overall air of smugness about him, I found."

In contrast, the victim was an "excellent" witness, he said.

"It's clear the incident she described was most upsetting to her."

He also agreed with the Crown's argument that the girl had no hostility towards Martin, a pillar of the church she had once admired. The incident would never have come to light if the girl's father hadn't found a diary entry she made about the incident years later, Epstein said.

The girl, who is now 16, wants to submit a victim-impact statement for the sentencing on Jan. 5.

The judge found Martin not guilty of sexually assaulting a second girl in 1988 or 1989 when she was about 11.

That girl testified Martin came up behind her while she was in his kitchen baking him a pie, put his hands on her hips and pressed his erect penis into her back.

Her father was in the living room at the time.

But Epstein accepted the testimony of Martin and his daughter, along with photographs, showing the kitchen counter space was too small and too crowded for pie baking. People normally used the table, the trial heard.

Epstein also agreed with defence lawyer James Marentette that the girl hadn't turned around to see if it really was Martin behind her.

The mother of the other victim approached her in 2005 and she decided to come forward to support her.

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