Verdict in Ghomeshi's sex assault trial set for March 24

TORONTO -- The fate of Jian Ghomeshi now rests with a Toronto judge who is expected to decide next month whether to convict the former broadcaster of sexual assault and send him to jail or declare him innocent.

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The Crown said on Thursday that the three women at the heart of the trial were "unshaken" in their allegations against the one-time CBC star, while the defence steadfastly argued that the complainants were unreliable witnesses who lied under oath.

The credibility and the reliability of Ghomeshi's three accusers are key issues for Justice William Horkins as he mulls the case that has triggered a national discussion about the challenges of reporting and prosecuting sexual assault.

Ghomeshi -- the former host of CBC Radio's popular culture show "Q" -- pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. His long anticipated trial, which began on Feb. 1, became something of a spectacle, drawing large crowds to a downtown Toronto courthouse.

While the 48-year-old did not take the stand, the bulk of evidence at the trial came from the three women, whose allegations were linked to incidents that allegedly happened in 2002 and 2003.

"All three Crown witnesses were unshaken in their allegations that they were sexually assaulted by Mr. Ghomeshi," Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan said in his closing arguments on Thursday.

Ghomeshi's defence team offered a starkly different view, arguing the Crown had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It (the evidence) is so riddled with inconsistencies and improbabilities and proven lies under oath that it cannot be said to prove anything," said Marie Henein, Ghomeshi's razor-sharp defence lawyer who shredded the testimony of all three complainants during intense cross-examination.

"It is our respectful submission that Mr. Ghomeshi is not guilty and he is entitled to an acquittal on all counts."

The first complainant, who cannot be identified, testified that Ghomeshi abruptly yanked on her hair when they were kissing in his car in December 2002 and then, a few days later, suddenly pulled her hair while they were kissing in his home and then punched her in the head.

The second complainant, "Trailer Park Boys" actress Lucy DeCoutere, told court she and Ghomeshi were kissing in his bedroom in 2003 when he suddenly pushed her against a wall, choked her and then slapped her face three times.

The third woman, who also cannot be named, testified that while kissing Ghomeshi in a park in 2003, he suddenly bit her shoulder and started squeezing her neck with his hands.

During cross-examination, however, Henein accused all three women of concealing the whole truth.

"The extraordinary fact of this case is that all three complainants withheld information from the police and from the Crown and, in my submission, most importantly from the court," she said.

In the case of the first complainant, Henein confronted the woman with friendly emails and a bikini photo she sent to Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults. The woman said she sent them as "bait," hoping Ghomeshi would contact her so she could get an explanation for the alleged assaults. The woman said she didn't remember the emails when she spoke with police.

During DeCoutere's time on the stand, Henein suggested her alleged assault never happened, showing court an email the actress sent Ghomeshi hours after the alleged incident in which she expressed a desire to have sex with him. Henein also produced a hand-written letter the actress sent him days later that ended with the words: "I love your hands." DeCoutere explained that she had been trying to "normalize" the situation and emphasized that her correspondence with Ghomeshi didn't mean the alleged assault didn't happen.

Under a barrage of questions from Henein, the third complainant acknowledged she deliberately misled investigators by not initially telling them she had a sexual encounter with Ghomeshi a few days after the alleged assault. Henein also revealed that the woman and DeCoutere exchanged thousands of messages in which they discussed their allegations and their shared contempt for him. The woman explained she was embarrassed by the sexual encounter and didn't initially think it was relevant. She also explained that her friendship with DeCoutere was that of two women who went through similar experiences supporting each other.

Callaghan argued that the credibility of Ghomeshi's three accusers had nothing to do with the way the women behaved after the alleged incidents, since the law is clear that everyone responds differently to sexual assault.

"Post-assault behaviour should not be used in the assessment of a complainant's credibility," he said. "Each of the complainants reacted to the sexual assault in their own unique ways. "

Henein agreed that the women's behaviour and their continued involvement with Ghomeshi after the alleged sexual assaults was not what was at play in the case -- but the fact that they lied under oath was.

"There is not an expert who will testify that perjury is indicative of trauma," she said. "What a witness cannot do is lie and conceal their conduct and then when caught out say 'oh geez that's just how victims of abuse behave."'

Ghomeshi's case will return to court on March 24. If convicted on the sexual assault charges, he faces a maximum of 18 months in prison. A conviction on the choking charge could bring a potential life sentence.

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Replay our live blog of the trial below. Warning: Some readers may find content disturbing



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