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Amish woman acquitted of Abuse

A retrial is seen as too traumatic for five children who testified to mistreatment

She said before her family went to a counselling centre, she was "blocking out" any memory of the attacks. "She'd say she was Satan or changed into a man," the girl said, and recalled her aunt also made up "a little song about Satan."

Amish Girl

ST. THOMAS -- An Amish woman accused of hideous acts of childhood sexual abuse involving young relatives walked out of court yesterday, acquitted of 19 charges. The acquittals were not decided by a jury. The children who said they had been abused didn't tell the court their version of what happened.

Instead, assistant Crown attorney Douglas Walker called no evidence, telling Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney it was too much for the children to testify against their aunt a second time.

“forced to eat manure and urine”

"It's unfortunate for everyone, not just the complainants, but the accused," Walker said.

The Crown's decision put the brakes on an anticipated three-week retrial of the woman. A court order prohibits identifying her or the children.

The acquittal also closed a case that ripped apart an Amish family and left many questions surrounding what happened within the closed Elgin County community.

The bonneted woman in the long dress pleaded not guilty yesterday to the 19 charges that included sexual assault, sexual touching and sexual interference.

The allegations dated from 1994 to 2001 and involved five children.

In testimony last April, four of the children described bizarre and hideous acts of violence they said had been inflicted upon them by their aunt, including sexual touching, beatings, attempted suffocations and strangulations.

The children testified they were forced to eat manure, dead animals and urine.

But when two witnesses said they had "blocked out" the alleged abuse, defence lawyer Jeanine LeRoy asked for a mistrial, arguing she needed time to explore the issues of repressed and blocked memory.

A mistrial was declared.

Yesterday, Walker told Heeney police investigators, counsellors and a psychologist said it would be too traumatic and harmful for the children to testify again.

The oldest witness, a 14-year-old girl, was depressed after the last trial and testifying again "could trigger another crisis" with long-term effects, Walker said.

Heeney called the case "a tragedy" for all involved, but he said "in the circumstances, it appears to be the compassionate decision."

The woman agreed to enter into a three-year $500 peace bond requiring no deposit.

Under the order, she cannot associate with seven named young people nor with anyone under the age of 15 unless in the company of another adult. She cannot be within five kilometres of two Malahide Township addresses.

Walker said outside the courtroom he was disappointed, but the children's welfare was his major concern.

"This isn't a decision we've made lightly," he said.

LeRoy said her client is greatly relieved and "thrilled to have it behind her."

She added the woman was not admitting any misconduct by agreeing to the peace bond.

"She has not had her day in court," LeRoy said, but "her name will always be surrounded by a question mark even though there was no evidence against her today."

The woman has undergone her share of difficulties, LeRoy said. For nine months, she was held in custody before she was granted bail, though she has no criminal record.

The woman was removed from her own community and found refuge with a Mennonite group, where she has shelter, employment and "a sense of family and community."

The woman's supporters and parents were in the courtroom. But she remains estranged from other parts of her family, LeRoy said.

Among her supporters was Adriaan Mak, a London man who said he represents the False Memory Syndrome Coalition, which debunks the theory of repressed memory.

Mak said the peace bond was "the perfect result."

Barbara MacQuarrie, community director for the Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children, said the case "looks like a gross miscarriage of justice."

Amish girl recounts abuse

Her aunt is on trial on 19 sex and violence charges involving five nieces and nephews

Amish group

ST. THOMAS -- With her starched white bonnet and long blue dress pressed in place, the teenager testifying yesterday was the picture of a proper Amish woman. What she described to a Superior Court of Justice jury seemed at odds with her appearance -- horrible acts of sexual abuse and violence inflicted upon her within her closed community by her aunt.

The 13-year-old recounted the horrors under questions by assistant Crown attorney Douglas Walker at the trial of a 34-year-old woman who has pleaded not guilty to 19 charges involving five children -- her nieces and nephews.

"She sexually abused us," the girl said with a clipped Pennsylvania Dutch accent.

The identities of the accused and the complainants are protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

The jury and others in the cavernous old courtroom watched the girl speak into a microphone on closed-circuit television. The technology allowed her to be in another part of the courthouse, away from where her aunt sat in the prisoner's box.

Members of the Amish community and family watched with rapt attention as the girl, about to end her school days when she completes Grade 8 next month, described what she remembered: - Touching of her "private parts" by her aunt, either with her hands or with a knife. - Numerous beatings "all over the body." - Attempted suffocation of the children with string around their necks or a plastic bag over their heads. - Forcing them to eat manure, dead animals and ingesting urine, sometimes telling them it would hurt them and other times indicating "our parents eat things like that."

One of the more bizarre circumstances the girl described took place, she said, in the aunt's bedroom. She said when she was either naked or dressed, she would wear an artificial beard.

The girl also recounted how her aunt would put insects into her and would tell her and other children to do it to her.

"She'd say she was Satan or changed into a man," the girl said, and recalled her aunt also made up "a little song about Satan."

The girl said her aunt "would say things to scare us" or would "say 'if it feels good' and things like that."

Her aunt also would threaten the children, warning "she'll kill us" and not to tell.

She said the assaults took place at her home -- in the barn and house -- and at her aunt's home. But she couldn't say how many times she was abused and often could not be specific about who was there.

Often, she said, the assaults took place in front of other children, but she could not be sure which ones.

She insisted she and her siblings never traded stories about the abuse. "Us children didn't really talk about it," she said. "Not what (the aunt) did to us."

She said before her family went to a counselling centre, she was "blocking out" any memory of the attacks.

She had also blocked out the memory of an abuse by her uncle, she said. He was present for some abuse inflicted on her by the aunt, she said.

When pressed by LeRoy, she denied she had substituted her aunt as the abuser to forget it was the uncle.

"It isn't like that, no," the girl said.

The jury also heard from the girl's mother, who described the daily routine of their home, the family's relationship and how her daughter often would couch her descriptions with words such as "maybe," "probably" and "perhaps."

"In our culture, we tend not to be so sure of ourselves when we say something," the mother explained in answering LeRoy's question. "I'd say it is one reason she does this, but it's more than that.

"I think children who are abused tend not to be so sure of themselves."

The trial continues today.

Amish children describe abuse

Their aunt is on trial on 19 charges

ST. THOMAS -- Three more Amish children yesterday described acts of sexual abuse and violence they say were inflicted on them by their aunt. A jury watched the children testify on closed-circuit television at the Superior Court of Justice trial of a 34-year-old Elgin County woman who has pleaded not guilty to 19 charges involving five children.

The charges include assault, sexual assault and administering a noxious thing.

A court-ordered publication ban protects the identities of the witnesses and the accused.

Under questioning by assistant Crown attorney Douglas Walker, an 11-year-old boy testified his aunt touched his genitals and forced him to perform a sex act on her while they were in the hayloft of his family's farm.

"I was afraid not to," he said, because his aunt told him "she would kill us if we didn't."

He also testified she put a rope around his neck more than once and pulled it tight. And he recalled her placing a plastic bag over his head, which "made us very, very scared."

The boy testified the woman often would cut the bottom of his and his cousins' feet with a kitchen knife. He never told his parents, he said, terrified his aunt would be angry.

But in cross-examination by defence lawyer Jeanine LeRoy, the boy was confused about which room he was cut in, whether he was sitting in a chair or in a corner, and who, if anyone, saw the slashings.

"Sometimes I get mixed up and I can't remember it," he said.

The boy was adamant his mother did not help him remember the incidents and he did not talk to his siblings about the abuse.

A shy 13-year-old girl demurely said her aunt "touched my private parts" while they were in an orchard. She said she eventually told her mother about it.

But in cross-examination, she said had dreamed about her aunt sexually abusing her brother shortly before she told. LeRoy suggested the girl was dreaming about the abuse she said was inflicted upon her.

"It did happen," the girl said. She also said she "never really liked (the aunt).

"I don't know why. I just didn't."

A 12-year-old boy said his aunt had reached down inside his pants. He said it made him feel "bad and little."

Amish case ends in mistrial

A woman charged with abusing children will be back for a new court date

ST. THOMAS -- A judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the case of an Elgin County Amish woman charged with 19 counts of sexual abuse and violence involving five children. Superior Court Justice Edward Browne dismissed the jury of seven women and five men yesterday afternoon.

The bonneted defendant sat quietly in the prisoner's box as Browne sent jurors home.

"I dismiss you, yes, but I dismiss you with heartfelt thanks," Browne told the jury.

The judge had told the jury he made the decision in their absence because of "matters involving more time than is available."

The names of the defendant and the children, who are her nieces and nephews, are protected by court order. The woman will be back in court May 27 to set a new trial date.

The trial had heard four children detail bizarre and hideous acts of violence they said were inflicted upon them by their aunt.

Their allegations included sexual touching, beatings, attempted suffocations and strangulations, and being forced to eat manure, dead animals and urine.

The children did not testify in the courtroom, but from another room in the courthouse, appearing on closed-circuit TV to protect them from having to talk about the alleged abuse in front of their aunt.

During the testimony, many members of the woman's family and members of the Amish community watched from the gallery of the Elgin County courtroom. Some took their own notes.

The jury had heard only three days of testimony following a prolonged jury selection process last week, when members of the panel were asked individually if the woman's background would influence their judging of the case.