A jury of eight women and four men are deciding the fate of a young man charged with indecent assault this week during a criminal jury trial that began on Monday, on the first day of a two-week High Court session.
Clark Iona faces three charges of ‘indecent assault on a girl under the age of 12. All the offences are alleged to have taken place on Aitutaki.
The offence carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.
Justice Grice told the jury they were to keep an open mind when hearing evidence, which would be given by family members and the victim.
Grice said although the trial was written, transcribed and given to the jury at the end of the trial, they should listen carefully to the evidence and each witness.
“Everything is transcribed, but that is not as good as seeing and hearing witnesses and the evidence in court.
“People say things in a way that cannot be portrayed through a transcription, so it is really important to listen.”
She reminded the jury they were not private detectives. Despite having to decide Iona’s fate, they must make their decisions based on evidence given in court and not by using elements of similar cases, or information from the internet.
The community and the justice system depended on the jury’s ability to be open, honest and decisive, and all members must refrain from discussing any element of the case with people outside of the court room, Grice added.
“The burden to prove the defendant’s guilt is on the Crown prosecutors ¬- Alison Mills and Alex Herman, and the standard of proof in the Cook Islands is to prove beyond reasonable doubt”.
Opening for the Crown, Herman said the incident had occurred a number of years ago, and the young girl had recently only told her parents about it.
Herman told the court the Crown would be calling six witnesses, including an expert witness who would give evidence regarding the psychological workings of young sexual abuse victims.
She explained the charges and their weight and said the Crown had to prove the charge of indecent assault. She told jurors that assault could be the deliberate and unlawful touching of a person, and didn’t necessarily have the attributes of common assault, such as punching, kicking or hitting. Jurors had to decide whether what the complainant said happened to her constituted indecent assault, Herman said.
Finally, the Crown had to prove that the accused had intended to indecently assault the woman, and that he knew what he was doing was wrong.
Defence counsel Norman George said the thrust of the defence’s case was to establish that there had been no indecent assault. He said that the events had been “imagined and fantasised” by the young complainant.
“The baseline of the defence is that none of this happened. That it could not have happened, and it did not happen.”
He told the jury to look at the evidence given, and nothing more.
The 12 jurors were released for a lengthy lunch break to give the court registrars sufficient time to put up screens, a standard practice that “protects” vulnerable witnesses and restricts their view of the accused, said Grice.
Information regarding the victim, the time of the alleged incident, the witnesses, and specific details of the incident were suppressed.