Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday 28 August 2001

Man acquitted of rape faces accuser

Cathy Fordham in court for uttering death threats

Don Campbell and Jake Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen


Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen
Lawyer Mitchell Rowe, left, escorts Cathy Fordham out of court yesterday. Jamie Nelson, the man she falsely accused, right rear, saw her for the first time since he was sent to prison in 1996.

The last time they were face-to-face in a courtroom five years ago, Jamie Nelson was on his way to prison for three years, and the woman who falsely accused him of rape, Cathy Fordham, walked out triumphantly.

The scene yesterday in Room 7 of the Elgin Street courthouse could not have been more different. This time, Ms. Fordham was the accused, and Mr. Nelson, fresh from an acquittal at the Ontario Court of Appeal, sat in the pews as a keen observer. He was only there because he wanted to be.

"I can't begin to tell you what it was like to be in a courtroom again," he said later. "I sat there trembling."

In 1996, Ms. Fordham, 30, testified that Mr. Nelson, 34, had raped her. In November of that year, Justice Hugh Fraser, basing his decision on her word, found Mr. Nelson guilty and sent him to prison.

Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the conviction based on a mountain of new evidence suggesting Ms. Fordham's word was unreliable.

Yesterday, Ms. Fordham appeared in front of Judge Fraser facing her own charges. In May, she pleaded guilty to uttering death threats against a former boyfriend.

The plea was part of a deal that saw the Crown withdraw a charge of making a false police report in conjunction with another woman.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Fordham, through her previous lawyer, Marni Munsterman, told Judge Fraser she wanted to take back her guilty plea. In the meantime, Mr. Nelson's wrongful conviction became national news.

Yesterday, Ms. Munsterman told the judge she had to drop the case because her client was giving her instructions she couldn't follow.

Ms. Fordham's new lawyer, Mitchell Rowe, said his client still wanted to change her plea.

The Crown attorney then said they would reactivate the public mischief charge for making the false police complaint.

The judge accepted these motions, then informed the court that he would not hear the case any further.

"It has come to my attention in the last couple days that this individual appeared before me on another matter some five years ago," Judge Fraser said. He went on to say it would be inappropriate for him to continue hearing Ms. Fordham's case.

She will now appear in court on Friday to face the death threat and public mischief charges.

Ms. Fordham says she has new information that will exonerate her of any wrongdoing in any court proceeding.

"I am very confident that the new evidence that has been made available will not only clear me of any wrongdoing, but will also prove that Mr. Nelson's acquittal was unjust and unfounded," she said after her appearance.

She said the new evidence will be made public at her appeal of a previous public mischief conviction for laying a false complaint.

Ms. Fordham spent her time in the courtroom pressed against a wall, her face hidden, on the opposite side of the room from her detractors, who included her ex-boyfriend, Mr. Nelson and her former co-workers and clients at a the Vanier Community Support Centre.

Ms. Fordham ran the now defunct half way house for two years until she wrongfully accused two men of assaulting her. She was eventually charged with this and convicted after a trial last summer.

A police investigation determined her halfway house was a snake-pit of drugs, alcohol, sex and terror. She reined over it all with an iron fist making dozens of police reports on the men in her care.

After this investigation, rape charges against another man she'd accused were dropped at the request of the Crown.

Ottawa police are now investigating whether she should be charged in relation to her complaint and testimony against Mr. Nelson.

After her court appearance yesterday, she lingered in a witness room, hoping the hostile entourage would leave her alone.

When that failed, she and her lawyer had no choice but to walk a gauntlet through the courthouse and outside to where her mother was waiting in a car.

Ms. Fordham used a white wind-breaker to cover her head and didn't acknowledge any of the taunts from her detractors.

"How do you think it will feel on your first Christmas in prison?," said Mr. Nelson, who walked stride-for-stride with his accuser. "How do you think it will feel?"

Another begged her to take off the jacket she was covering her head in.

"C'mon Cathy, you're so beautiful, show us your face," he shouted sarcastically. "It's Casper. You look like Casper the ghost."

Outside, Mr. Rowe said his client would not discuss her situation and said the day had been difficult for her, and even more so knowing the presence of several of her enemies.

"I think she wants to have her day in court," said Mr. Rowe, who only became Ms. Fordham's lawyer late last week. "She has a right to a trial, and she will have a trial.

"She is very scared right now. She feels very vulnerable of other people. I don't think she is scared of justice. She is just scared."

The appearance represented Mr. Nelson's first time back in a courtroom with his accuser since Nov. 14, 1996 when he went off to jail for a crime he never committed.

Mr. Nelson said Judge Fraser made eye contact with him as he sat in the second row from the back, beside his father, and said he was touched by a simple nod from the Judge.

He also admitted he spent a sleepless night and restless morning, wondering if he could even muster the strength to even attend.

"We were standing by the locks at the Chateau Laurier and I was thinking about how nice it would be to spend the day on one of those boats," said Mr. Nelson. "I didn't go to sleep all night.

"Just seeing how quickly (Ms. Fordham) turned her head away. It didn't hide the shame. The shame is hers to carry."

Mr. Nelson said he was undecided if he would attend Ms. Fordham's trial. He is expected to launch a civil suit against the police and attorney general's office in the coming weeks.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.