James Derek French has been found not guilty of charges of sexual assault and sexual interference of a minor.
Judge Susan Wishart explained her decision in Western Communities Courthouse on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Outside the courthouse, French expressed relief that it was over and that his name has been cleared. He said the trial has affected his ability to get work.
“It’s been a tough go for me having to live like that. I didn’t do anything,” French said.
“I made some poor decisions, yes, of course,” he said, but maintained he had done nothing criminal.
In what amounted to a case of one word against the other, Wishart found that the complainants version of the alleged events could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
A 14-year-old girl, who can’t be identified due to a publication ban, accused French of trying to take advantage of her while she was passed out drunk in his bed in his Langford home. She had spent the evening at French’s house in the company of his son and other friends. French had provided the teenagers with beer. When the girl became ill he offered up his bed for her to sleep in, volunteering to sleep on the couch.
French agreed that he had kissed the teen’s cheek and at one point had laid beside her, but denied any sexual intentions. He said he treated her no differently than he would his own daughter. He also denied the girl’s accusation that French had tried to remove her shorts, had touched her thigh and at one point undid his own belt.
“Clearly how Mr. French conducted himself that evening was wrong, from a parenting perspective,” Wishart said. “But I’m not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that there was any sexual aspect with respect to that conduct.”
Wishart said a major factor in all the testimony she heard was alcohol. The girl agreed that she drank about nine beers over the course of the night, and was throwing up drunk before she was put to bed. French himself consumed about 10 beers, but said that was not unusual for him.
While the judge acknowledged the girl believed what she told the court, Wishart said it was entirely possible alcohol affected the teen’s memory and she may have confused the facts. While giving her testimony, the girl herself agreed to a possible memory lapse.
French’s son, who had previously made advances on the girl, said he went into the room multiple times to check on her and at one point rubbed her back. The son told this to police the next day and did not have time to make up a story with his father, said Wishart.
For this reason Wishart determined what he said to be the truth and said it was possible the girl mistook one person for the other.
Taking into account the context of the entire night, the testimony of the witnesses and the credibility of those testimonies, Wishart arrived at her decision of not guilty.