News / Halifax

‘I didn’t deserve this:’ Lyle Howe claims he was wronged as sexual assault charge dropped

Halifax lawyer says case should never have gone to trial, has gone through 'hell' because of it.

Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe is shown in this file photo.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe is shown in this file photo.

Lyle Howe says he will be a “better lawyer because of what I’ve dealt with” after a sexual assault charge against him was dismissed, halting the possibility of a second trial.

After the Crown decided not to proceed with the high-profile case on Thursday, Justice James Chipman dismissed the charge of sexual assault in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

When asked how he was feeling, Howe told reporters he wouldn’t describe it as happy “because it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.”

“My family and I went through hell, to say the least,” he said.

“I’ve been dealing with hurdles like this my entire life. I don’t know what’s next because I didn’t deserve this.”

Howe spent two weeks in custody after being found guilty last May of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in her Fairview apartment in March 2011, and sentenced to three years in prison in July 2014.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned the conviction, and granted Howe a new trial on Sept. 3 of 2015.

In the appeal, Justice Dave Farrar said the trial judge failed to explain the concept of "honest but mistaken belief in consent" to the jury.

During deliberations, the jury had asked for a clarification of the legal definition of consent, as the case hinged on it.  Howe told the jury the sex was consensual, while the complainant said she didn’t remember what happened after a certain point in the evening.

The Crown’s position they dropped the charges because the complainant did not want to testify a second time is not the “full picture,” Howe said, because she could have been compelled to take the stand.

Howe said the Crown had “no case” after a judge acquitted him of administering a stupefying substance, since the complainant had testified the amount of alcohol she drank wouldn’t have caused memory loss, and added a video showed her entering the apartment “with all her faculties.”

“She climbed up concrete steps, in the wintertime, wearing footwear that if you were incapacitated you wouldn’t be able to make it up the stairs,” Howe said with a slight laugh.

“I think that a blind person could see that I wasn’t guilty.”

A main issue for Howe was the lack of African Nova Scotia jury members - the lone black juror was an international student - and white judges he dealt with throughout the initial trial and appeal process, he said.

“As a black person coming into this building, every time that I do I don’t feel at home,” Howe said.

“We should feel that when we step into the court that we’re actually going to feel that we’re getting a fair shake, equal to what a white person would.”

The issue of race has been raised throughout the case, with a group of Howe supporters protesting his conviction and stating the legal system was biased against him as a black man. 

The complainant's name is under a publication ban, but was posted on Facebook by a supporter of Howe. David Winslow Sparks, 62, was fined $1,950 and sentenced to a year's probation for breaking the ban last March.

Although Howe has an ongoing disciplinary hearing in front of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society related to complaints of professional misconduct, he can practice at the moment and said he now truly understands what his clients go through.

“I’m going to be a better lawyer because of what I’ve dealt with. I have more empathy for my clients,” Howe said.

“I’ll certainly take this and put it to good use in terms of this experience.” - with files from The Canadian Press.

Complainant wanted to avoid ‘grueling’ testimony: Crown

The Crown prosecutor in the sexual assault case against Lyle Howe said the complainant did not want to face days of “grueling” testimony for a second time.

After a Supreme Court judge dismissed the sexual assault charge on Thursday, Dan Rideout told reporters that the woman’s decision not to testify in a second trial “weighed heavily” in their decision.

Rideout said they did not want to compel the complainant to take the stand.

“We had considered the unique nature of the case, including several days of … grueling testimony that she had to go through the first time,” Rideout said.

The complainant, a 22-year-old woman, took the stand over multiple days during the 2014 trial.

Rideout said the woman’s evidence was necessary to proceed with the case, and without it they did not have realistic prospect of conviction.

“Respecting her decision, we decided not to proceed,” Rideout said.

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