TORONTO (AP) — A judge on Thursday found a former Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio host not guilty of sexual assault in a case that sparked a nationwide conversation about consent and sexual harassment.
Jian Ghomeshi had faced four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking based on alleged incidents involving three women. He is the former host of "Q," a popular radio show on culture heard in Canada and on many U.S. public stations.
Justice William Horkins acquitted Ghomeshi on all charges, saying it is difficult to have trust in witnesses who selectively or deliberately suppress information. He said the three women were less than fully frank and forthcoming.
"The harsh reality is that once a witness has shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the Court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth," he said in his decision. He added the acquittal was not the same as asserting the events in question never happened.
Police launched an investigation in 2014 after more than 12 women contacted various media sources to allege that Ghomeshi had assaulted them.
Ghomeshi, who first gained fame as a member of the 1990s satirical pop band Moxy Fruvous, defended himself in a 1,500-word statement on Facebook, saying women consented to having "rough sex" with him and that he was the victim of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend. The CBC fired him.
He still faces another sex assault trial based on allegations from a fourth complainant in June. Ghomeshi and his lawyer declined to comment after the verdict.
Dozens of women gathered outside the courthouse to protest the verdict, some chanting, "Ghomeshi guilty." A topless protester jumped in front of the prosecutor while he was talking to the media and was arrested.
All three women made damaging revelations after the trial started.
The first woman to testify in the trial, whose name is protected by a publication ban, acknowledged that she emailed Ghomeshi a bikini-clad picture of herself a year after he allegedly sexually assaulted her, pulling her hair and punching her in the head in 2003. She claimed on the witness stand to have forgotten about the email and another flirtatious email she sent a year after the incident. She never told police about the emails.
The judge said she was deceptive. "It is clear that she deliberately breached her oath to tell the truth. Her value as a reliable witness is diminished accordingly," he said.
Television actress Lucy DeCoutere, the second woman to testify, acknowledged that she told Ghomeshi that she wanted to have sex with him a day after he allegedly choked and slapped her in 2003. She only did so after the defense provided email evidence. DeCoutere also acknowledged she sent Ghomeshi flowers days after the alleged assault. And in a handwritten love letter days later, she wrote: "I love your hands."
DeCoutere, who waived her right to have her name not published, never told police about the love letter and testified that she didn't remember the emails. She also told police that she only saw Ghomeshi in passing afterward, but the defense proved otherwise.
"It became clear at trial that Ms. DeCoutere very deliberately chose not to be completely honest with the police," the judge said. "The deliberate withholding of the information reflects very poorly on Ms. DeCoutere's trustworthiness as a witness."
The third witness in the case, whose name is protected by a publication ban, acknowledged that she deliberately misled police when she didn't tell them that she had engaged in some sexual activity with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault took place in 2003. The woman testified that she had trouble breathing after Ghomeshi put his hands around her neck as they were making out in a Toronto park.
The judge said her decision to withhold the information "until the last minute prior to trial, greatly undermines the Court's confidence in her evidence."
Ghomeshi's sister said the ordeal has been extremely painful for the family.
"Jian is not a symbol to us, but a beloved brother and son," Jila Ghomeshi said. "Our hardest burden has been our feeling of helplessness as we have watched him endure a punishment that was not only prior to a verdict but prior to any semblance of due process for well over a year."
The CBC said in a statement that the charges in the trial were unrelated to their decision to fire Ghomeshi but noted that "based on the evidence that came to our attention, Mr. Ghomeshi's actions were not compatible with the values of the public broadcaster nor with our employee code of conduct. We stand by this decision."