A 35-year-old man who approached two young teenagers on a centre-city path in St. John’s, told them they had "nice, sexy bums" and then touched them was found guilty of one charge of sexual interference Friday.
Judge Colin Flynn convicted Richard Rees of the charge, saying he found the testimony of the two girls to be "clear and cogent" and truthful. He dismissed two other charges against Rees.
The girls, who were 13 and 14 at the time, said they had been walking on a path next to Sobeys on Ropewalk Lane late one afternoon last April when they heard someone call out "Hey!" behind them. They yelled "Hi" back, thinking it was another teenager, they each testified, but when the person got closer, they saw it was a much older man on a bicycle.
The girls said the man — whom they both identified as Rees, having seen him around — offered them beer from a brown paper bag, but they declined it. He smelled like alcohol, they said, and seemed wobbly when he got off his bike and walked behind them.
"He made a few comments like, 'You're both really beautiful,' 'You have nice butts' and that we had big thighs and he thought it was hot," the younger girl said. "It was weird and we felt really uncomfortable."
The girls said they walked faster in an effort to ditch Rees, who kept walking his bike behind them, at times hopping on it to catch up.
One of the girls told the court Rees had put his hand on her lower back, so she moved to walk on the other side of her friend. She said she saw Rees touch her friend's waist, thighs and bum, and at one point he appeared to be trying to put his hand down the top of her leggings.
The older girl told the court Rees had touched her bum twice, and had put two fingers down the waist of her leggings, after telling her and her friend that they had "nice, sexy bums" and were "beautiful ladies."
The older girl said that when she and her friend reached the end of the path, at the Sobeys parking lot, they saw a woman they knew, in her vehicle. The girl said she waved the woman over as her friend continued walking across the street to Tim Hortons.
Defence lawyer Derek Hogan had questioned the girls on their statements to police, pointing out they had told an RNC officer the man had "attempted" to touch them, but hadn't indicated he had succeeded.
Flynn said he was satisfied the girls had told the truth when they testified Rees had actually touched them, and added that Hogan had "zeroed in on small, incidental issues in the statements of both young girls as compared to their testimony."
The issue of whether or not the younger girl had walked to Tim Hortons or had gotten into the woman's vehicle with her friend, as she had testified, was an insignificant memory issue, the judge determined.
The judge addressed testimony given by the driver of the vehicle, who told the court the older girl had said a man had been bothering her, but hadn't mentioned he had touched her. The girl didn't seem upset, the woman testified, describing the teenager as appearing "happy-go-lucky."
"When I dropped her off, I gave her my number and I said, if anyone is bothering you, call me, but that's Richard, he's harmless, he's a good fellow. That's what I feel," the woman said at trial.
Flynn said he had listened carefully to the woman's testimony, and listened to the recording of it again after the trial.
"I note that she would not give a statement to police when first requested, and only did so some six months later, and then only because she had received a subpoena to testify," the judge said.
He said he found it odd that the woman would describe the older girl as "happy go lucky."
"That description certainly isn't consistent with someone who had just flagged down a person driving along the road, and who had been followed by the accused, who was drunk and had offered her beer," Flynn said, adding he found the woman's evidence to be tainted by her beliefs about Rees.
Flynn convicted Rees of sexual interference against the older girl, issuing a stay when it came to the sexual assault charge against the same girl, given the two charges were related to the same actions.
The judge said although he accepted the testimony of the younger girl, calling her "forthcoming and straightforward," he could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Rees's "momentary touching of her back" was for a sexual purpose. He therefore dismissed the charges related to the younger girl.
Rees will be back in court April 12 for a sentencing hearing.