The defendant, Clark Iona appeared before Justice Christine Grice and a panel of Cook Island locals, in a four-day trial.
Iona was defended by defence lawyer Norman George, who said the main thrust of his defence relied on the notion that the victim, a young girl had simply “imagined, dreamed or fantasised” the assault.
Six witnesses were called to give evidence, along with an expert witness, a doctor who specialises in the behaviours of victims of sexual assault, particularly children.
The court was told the incident happened a number of years ago on Aitutaki and left the girl terrified and confused.
A police summary said the young girl was sleeping when she was woken by the defendant who then indecently assaulted her, three times.
The degree of the assaults varied, however due to suppression orders, their nature cannot be described. However, the jury found the defendant not guilty on one charge regarding the most serious assault.
The complainants’ parents spoke about the change in the young girl’s behaviour following the assaults and how she had only told her mother recently, years after the incident.
Her parents said that she had suffered sleep walking and other behavioural changes and believed they were a result of the assault.
They said the incident had torn the family apart and left the girl traumatised.
George disputed the young girl’s version of the events, claiming she had simply imagined the assault, or adapted what she had seen in a movie.
Under cross-examination some witnesses had answered questions with “I can’t remember”, George said.
He asked the complainant why she had taken so long to tell her parents about the incident, to which she replied, “I was so confused and didn’t know what had happened, and I was embarrassed”.
In his closing summary, George told the jury that in his opinion, “it is far better that nine guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongfully convicted.”
He advised them to take that idea into consideration when deliberating their decision.
Crown Prosecutors Alex Herman and Alison Mills highlighted the information given by their expert witness, which explained why most child victims of sexual assault or abuse can take many years to tell an adult about a sexual assault.
She explained that often when young children are sexually abused, they may wait till they are adult themselves, to tell someone. She said they often didn’t realise what had happened to them was wrong, until they were old enough to mentally process it. Other factors in delayed reporting included being worried they may get told off, or being embarrassed.
In her closing statement Herman said there was no way a young girl would be able to “imagine” or “fantasise” what had happened to her - nor did she have the intellect or knowledge to make up such events. She asked them to keep that in mind when deciding whether Iona was guilty or innocent.
Following her closing summary, Justice Grice reminded the jury of the responsibilities involved in their role.
The jury was sent to deliberate at around 1pm on Thursday November 30. It was said to have taken them over five hours before they reached a decision, at 6pm that evening.
They delivered guilty verdicts on two of the charges, and “not guilty” on the third charge.
The matter was adjourned till Friday December 8 for sentencing. The charges each carry a maximum of 10 years’ jail.