Sheriffs remove angry Amherst bystanders, others walk out
AMHERST – The possibility of probation without any time in jail for a 60-year old Amherst-man guilty of assaulting a disabled woman has members of Amherst’s public outraged.
© Christopher Gooding photo
Heated opinions about a recommendation for a 60 year-old man be sentenced to 18 months probation for sexually assaulting a disabled woman moved across the street from the Amherst Provincial Court on Tuesday and remained under the watchful eye of Amherst Police and sheriffs until the crowd dispersed.
Approximately 20 people filed into the Amherst Provincial courtroom Tuesday to hear a sentencing recommendation for Ronald Edward Thibodeau, 60, of Amherst, but many were either escorted by sheriffs or left on their own freewill before the matter was adjourned.
The Crown and Defense counsel presented a joint recommendation Thibodeau receive 18 months probation with conditions, his name be entered into the Sex Offenders Registry for 20 years, take counseling and have no contact with the victim.
Many at the courthouse arrived following a rumour the recommendation was going to be 45 days in jail, which they felt was insufficient. After the recommendation of 18 months without incarceration was given, a few broke their silence leading to a few words of caution from the presiding judge, Paul Scovil.
Thibodeau pleaded guilty to the sexual assault Oct. 3, with a second charge being dropped by the Crown. The April 9, 2012, incident occurred when the victim visited Thibodeau’s home. After watching television together, Thibodeau began to sexual touch the victim, who tried to pull away. Thibodeau continued the act, believing it to be consensual.
Thibodeau admitted to the victim’s version of the story, Mary Ellen Nurse said on behalf of the Crown, but getting the victim’s statement required extensive questioning. Nurse indicated the victim suffers from learning disabilities and was unaware of her intelligence level.
“The key feature of this case was the terrific uncertainty of the Crown’s witness,” Defense lawyer Jim O’Neil said. “People may have comments about the law, but I hope the court will treat my client within the law.”
O’Neil presented cases to support the joint-recommendation, where in most of the cases presented the victim was either a minor or disabled and suffered sexual assaults ranging from touching to intercourse, resulting in sentencing of conditional sentences, house arrest or probation.
“The reason I cite these cases… so when we look at the joint recommendation before you, did we review the law,” O’Neil said. “I’m asking my client be treated with parity.”
Scovil adjourned the matter until December in order for a pre-sentence report to be conducted and review the case law presented by O’Neil.
What the public should understand, these cases are always difficult. There are a number of issues I have to deal with and it will affect my decision.” Judge Paul Scovil
The matter before the courts, Scovil said, is not easy for everyone.
“What the public should understand, these cases are always difficult,” Scovil said. “There are a number of issues I have to deal with and it will affect my decision.”
For many in the courtroom, the recommendation of probation didn't go far enough.
“They’re planning on handing this guy leniency,” Paul Farrow said outside the court. “Where’ the justice? I couldn’t sit there any longer. As a father, this is an injustice.”
Ron Downey, a father of a girl with disabilities, said the recommendation was appalling.
“I’m concerned for my own little girl,” Downey said. “They think they can do it and get away with it… anyone with a daughter should be concerned about this.”
Tammy Rogers, a survivor of abuse, said the recommendation of probation instead of stiffer penalty drew up memories of her own past and the impact sentencing has on victims.
“For me, the accused got minimal sentencing for the years of abuse I suffered,” Rogers said. “For years I felt it wasn’t enough.”
The case before the court, Rogers said, should consider the victims more than the attackers.
For one father, the situation is serving as a forecast for dark days ahead for his own daughter.
“My little girl was sexually assaulted,” the man said under the condition of anonymity. “What are they going to do for her? Do I make her relive that in court so they give him a slap on the wrist? They’re offering him [Thibodeau] counseling. What counseling are they offering the victim?”
There is a publication ban on the victim and details that would identify her.
Thibodeau will return to court December 12.