Barrie woman’s suicide leaves sexual assault case in jeopardy
Kassidi Coyle died by suicide months after she was allegedly the victim of a sexual assault.
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On June 30, 2016, 20-year-old Kassidi Coyle went to the drive-in with two friends and spent the night at one of their homes.
In the early hours of the next morning, police were called and 38-year-old Shawn Roy, visiting from Quebec, was arrested and charged with sexual assault.
Four months later, Kassidi died by suicide, leaving her family and friends devastated and fixed on one question: Will her alleged attacker still face a trial?
According to those closest to her, Kassidi changed after July 1.
“It was like day and night,” her mother, Judi Coyle, said. “That friendly, bubbly Kassidi was gone.”
Kassidi, the youngest of four sisters, had been strong, spontaneous, kind and outgoing, the life of every party. She planned to become a nurse. She was a girly-girl with always flawless makeup. She sang country music purposely off-key to annoy her mom.
After the alleged sexual assault, she became quiet and withdrawn. She stopped wanting to leave her home or even her room.
“It got to the point where we didn’t even recognize her,” said Emily Anderson, one of her best friends.
Anderson said Kassidi began having recurring nightmares.
“Whenever I asked her about them, she’d say she just pictured it happening over and over again . . . she was losing her mind really, she was,” Anderson said.
Two weeks after the alleged sexual assault, she made her first suicide attempt by taking pills, according to Coyle. It took Kassidi three days to wake up from a coma. When she did, her mother said, the first thing she wrote on the board by her bed was: “I want to die.”
She tried to kill herself two more times before Oct. 27.
That was the night her mother went into her room to check on her and found her barely breathing.
Medical staff were able to restart her heart, but it was too late for her brain. She died on Nov. 1.
It was 16 days before her first scheduled counselling appointment at Athena’s Sexual Assault Counselling and Advocacy Centre in Barrie. That was the earliest available date, Coyle said, though the alleged assault took place on July 1.
“They say she saved six lives (through organ donation) and I said if she’d been an ICU nurse, if she’d been a nurse period – if she’d made it further in life – she would have saved a lot more,” Coyle said. “She would have saved so many more lives.”
Coyle’s grief has become intertwined with her desire to see Roy face justice.
“What is it going to hurt if you put it before a judge or jury? The jury may say he’s not guilty. But at least we will know that we tried. Let her have the chance of having her case heard, after her death. . . . You prosecute a murderer even though the victim isn’t alive to testify.”
On Monday, the publication ban on Kassidi’s identity was lifted by the court at Coyle’s request. Kassidi’s case returns to court in February, when a trial date might be set. If there is a trial, it would be before a judge, not a jury.
Coyle said Kassidi gave multiple video statements to the police, as did others who were at the home that night. A rape kit was also done.
But without Kassidi to take the stand to testify and be cross-examined about what happened that night, Coyle is concerned that the future of the case is in jeopardy.
Roy’s lawyer, David Wilcox, said his client maintains he did not commit the alleged sexual assault.
“Obviously this is a tragedy. This young woman has taken her own life. We will never know why she did that or to what extent she was thinking clearly. We will just never know,” Wilcox told the Star. “We are just waiting now while the Crown reviews the evidence to see if it is sufficient to continue in the absence of the complainant.”
Cross-examination is the “most effective weapon that any accused person has in defending a criminal charge,” he said.
He referred to the cross-examination of the three complainants in Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assault trial as an example.
“Until the defence lawyer had the opportunity to cross-examine those complainants, the prevailing view was he was going to be convicted,” Wilcox said. “It is difficult to imagine a fair trial in the absence of a right to confront and cross-examine a complainant, but again it is not an absolute because there are ways a Crown can try to bring a case to trial in the absence of a complainant.”
Legal experts agree that proceeding with a sexual assault trial where a complainant cannot testify is unusual, but not unheard of.
In a 2015 case in Toronto, a sexual assault trial proceeded after the complainant died by suicide. The prosecution relied on a security video of the alleged sexual assault. The accused man was acquitted.
“It is difficult enough with the complainant alive and ready to testify,” said Amanda Dale, executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, a legal clinic for women who experience violence.
Although a complainant can be the best Crown witness in a sexual assault case, there may be other forms of evidence that the prosecution can present.
A suicide note or medical records could be used to argue a suicide is an aggravating factor or to show a complainant’s behaviour was consistent with someone who had been sexually assaulted.
On the other hand, the defence “might use her suicide as a bias factor in the interest of justice and also argue lack of evidence as she not there to testify,” Dale said, speaking generally.
Much may hinge on whether statements a complainant has made to police are admissible at a trial, something that depends on whether a judge finds they are reliable and necessary, said criminal law professor Robert Currie at the Schulich School of Law.
Lawyer Joanna Birenbaum said that “in general it is appropriate for the Crown to proceed when the complainant has given statements under oath to the police.”
“In principle, persons who perpetrate sexual violence should not automatically be free from prosecution because the complainant has died, especially when the complainant’s death was a direct result of the trauma of the sexual assault,” said Birenbaum, who is not involved in this case.
Kassidi’s mother said she is haunted by what-ifs. What if she had checked on Kassidi sooner on the night she overdosed? What if she’d realized some of the things Kassidi was doing that made her seem like she was getting better were actually signs she was still suicidal? What if Kassidi hadn’t been discharged from the hospital? What if she’d been able to speak to a counsellor sooner?
“That’s the way rape is. It starts out here and it ripples, ripples, ripples through everything. Every family member. Every friend. It creates almost like a perfect storm,” Coyle said.
“I still can’t believe she is dead, I keep thinking she is going to come home and say, ‘Kidding.’ ”
Coyle said more support and more funding for sexual assault victims and for mental health is required across the country, and more education so that family and friends know how to help their loved ones.
Anderson agreed. In some ways she believes Kassidi’s final overdose was an attempt to be hospitalized again and access the help she felt she wasn’t able to get otherwise.
“I think she was conditioned to think this is the only way to get the help that I need,” Anderson said. “I don’t think she meant to die.”
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