A Kwadacha man was found not guilty Friday of carrying out a horrific and near-fatal sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl in the community.
Both Donald Van Somer and friends and family in the gallery showed visible relief upon hearing the verdict from B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen.
Van Somer had been charged with aggravated sexual assault from the Feb. 9, 2016 incident in which the girl, who cannot be named under the court-ordered publication ban, nearly bled to death from what a physician concluded was repeated blunt force trauma to her vagina.
Tammen variously called the attack vicious, brutal and horrific but also said his sympathy for the victim cannot cloud his assessment of the evidence against Van Somer and concluded the sum total fell well short of proof of guilt.
The attack first came to light at about 4:30 a.m. when someone on a snowmobile dropped the semi-conscious girl off at the community's medical clinic. If not for the actions of the clinic's two nurses, she likely would have died from a combination of hypothermia and blood loss, Tammen said. She was later transported to Prince George for surgery on a large laceration.
The victim had virtually no recollection of what happened to her or who attacked her. While she testified as to having vaguely remembered what happened in the aftermath, Tammen found her memories were unreliable and tainted by the stories circulating around the community following the attack.
Crown counsel had alleged Van Somer and the victim had been at a drinking party and the two were later seen riding together on a snowmobile and possibly with another man, Nathan Pierre, towards the home where the attack occurred sometime after midnight.
However, Tammen rejected testimony from Pierre, who placed Van Somer and the girl alone in Pierre's bedroom where the judge found the attack had taken place.
Pierre also led police to a pair of snowpants stained with the girl's blood while another man, Shaun McCook, then led police to a snowmobile and Van Somer's helmet, abandoned some distance from the village.
However, Tammen found the pants would more likely have fit McCook than Van Somer and found McCook matched the description given by one of the nurses of the man who dropped the girl off at the medical clinic.
Put together, Tammen said there "starts to be a considerable body of evidence leading to Shaun McCook's guilt."
"That, coupled with his attention to deflect police attention from himself and on the accused, starts to seriously erode any incriminatory inferences which I might draw from the abandonment of the snowmobile," Tammen continued.
"In short, I remain far from convinced that the guilt of the accused is the only rational inference to be drawn from the proven facts."