Globe and Mail

Man jailed for 2½ years acquitted retroactively

John Saunders
Friday, August 24, 2001
The Globe and Mail

TORONTO -- A man who served 2½ years in prison was retroactively acquitted yesterday on the basis of new evidence about a former friend who said he beat her, raped her and threatened her life in her suburban Ottawa apartment in 1996.

James Nelson, 34, a cook who now lives in Stratford, Ont., pursued his appeal after his release in 1999. Including time before trial, he spent more than three years in custody.

A three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal set aside his conviction yesterday after being told that the woman, a former social worker, has repeatedly accused other people of criminal acts since he went to prison.

She was convicted of public mischief last summer for filing a false assault complaint against another man, and received a six-month conditional sentence, meaning no time in jail. In 1999, the Crown withdrew charges of sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm against a third man she accused.

Mr. Nelson's lawyer, Todd Ducharme, last night called the case "a cautionary tale to all those who would suggest that no one would make false allegations of serious crimes like sexual assault." He said it shows that false charges can be made "and, most troubling, can be believed."

The woman's identity is protected by an order issued by the judge who convicted Mr. Nelson. An Ottawa police investigation in 1999 concluded that "caution should be used when dealing with issues that would involve [her] credibility."

The investigation report, submitted to the appeal court, quoted a nurse who worked with the complainant as saying she had heard her say repeatedly that "all men are pigs and should be treated as such."

Mr. Nelson had once been friendly with her but did not have "an intimate sexual relationship" with her, according to an appeal document filed on his behalf.

In 1996, he lived with another woman in Monkland, a village between Ottawa and Cornwall, and denied he was in Ottawa on the night his accuser said he attacked her.

The father of two sons, he was engaged in a custody battle at the time with the mother of one of the boys. At his trial, he argued that his accuser and the boy's mother were friends, and that the former invented the rape to ensure that he lost the custody fight.

Mr. Nelson had twice before been convicted of common assault on the same woman but continued to deny assaulting her except on one occasion by holding her wrists.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.