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Martensville: Sterling Trial Part 2

Families 'devastated' by trial outcome

Ron, Linda Sterling

Emotions run high as Ron and Linda Sterling leave courthouse after being cleared of all charges

One of the boys who said he was sexually abused by the Sterlings cried when his mother told him the jury's verdict.

"He's devastated." said the mother. Her 10-year-old son said to her, "They don't believe us."

"How do you tell a child who feared frm day one he would not be believed 'You were right,'" the woman said in an interview Wednesday.

"I have to help my child cope again (because) he was not believed and these people are on the street again."

Hours earlier, Ron and Linda Sterling were found not guilty of all the charges they faced, which were based on allegations made by children they looked after at their Martensville home.

Their son Travis was found guilty of eight charges, including one sexual assault count involving the woman's son.

The convictions against Travis seemed to offer little consolation to the group of parents who rushed to court to hear the verdict.

Many arrived too late and were ushered into a side room where a therapist and support person told them what had happened.

In the hallway, one woman who believed her children were abused at the Sterling house looked at a smiling Ron Sterling and quietly said, "that bastard."

Charges involving her children were never laid.

The parents, who can't be identified because doing so could identify their children, must now decide whether to let them testify in any more trials, if prosecutors decide to go ahead.

"At this point I feel there is no justice, so what is the point?" asked the 10-year-old's mother. "That is how I feel right now, but that could change."

Another mother, whose son accused Linda Sterling of pointing a gun at him during a sexual assault, has no doubt that continuing is the right decision.

"There are people who need to be punished, she said.

She said she didn't know what to expect when the jury came back Wednesday morning, while the first mother said her hopes already had dropped.

The doubts started, she said, when Judge Ross Wimmer made his charge to the jury -- summarizing the evidence and the laws that applied.

"That judge -- I have never seen a more biased judge," the woman said. "I felt everything was going well until then. We all felt we had done our best."

Wimmer told the jury not a "smidgen" of evidence linked the Sterlings to a quonset where some of the sexual abuse was said to have happened.

He also said there was no medical evidence and many of the children's allegations were unsubstantiated and even bizarre.

During the trial, defence lawyers attacked how parents, police and therapists questioned the children.

Constable Claudia Bryden

They said the allegations didn't surface until the children had undergone suggestive interviews and were pressured by adults who assumed the abuse happened.

The first mother said she didn't think the investigation was bungled.

She also sprang to the defence of Claudia Bryden (right), the former Martensville police officer who started the investigation in the fall of 1991.

"Claudia Bryden had asked for help and she never got it. Why was she not given help?"

Greg Walen

Children's psychologist Heather Brenneman, who was in court with the parents, would not comment as she left the building.

Lawyer Greg Walen (right), who represented the children who testified at the trial, said: "The process is not designed very well to deal with children of this age."

Despite the result, he said the parents "believe their children. They have no doubt what their children say happened."

"It's unbelievable that could have put together a story like that," said the mother.


Some townsfolk not convinced Sterlings innocent

Prosecutors Upset

The court's verdict on Ron, Linda and Travis Sterling may be in, but few people surveyed in Martensville believe justice was done.

Almost everyone interviewed expressed disappointment with Wednesday's verdict.

It was a surprise to hear that two of the Sterlings were acquitted, said Delores Whitson, who felt justice was not seen to be done.

"I think all the evidence should have been made public, said Whitson. "Otherwise, how can you really know if it was a fair trial?"

"Injustice was done," exclaimed another resident, who refused to reveal her name.

"Those children were credible witnesses for (convicting) Travis, but not his parents?" a shop owner, who also wished to remain anonymous, asked rhetorically.

The shop owner also wondered about the judge's conduct.

"No one's going to understand why a judge would call in a jury and say 'Hurry up, guys,'" she said, in reference to Justice Ross Wimmer's admonishment of the jury Tuesday telling them to "try harder" to reach a verdict.

"I disagree with the judge putting the rush on the jury," agreed Glen Gardiner. "This is something you don't rush."

But not everybody in town thought the justice system failed in this case.

"It's good that justice is done," said Theresa Hango, who added that "a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon" assuming the accused were guilty when the scandal first broke.

The news media also received criticism from Martensville residents.

"The media constantly referred to it as 'the Martensville trial.' That's annoying to the rest of us in Martensville, said Cheryl Hale.

"I hated it when it was called 'the Martensville abuse case,' because it wasn't Martensville, it was 10 people," Pat Brooks said.

Opinions differed widely over how much comfort the town can take in seeing an end to the Sterling trial.

"There are lots of bad feelings because what people believed happened to the children," said the shop owner.

"Guilty verdicts for all would have created a loud cheer," but instead the reaction in town seemed subdued and quiet, she continued.

Mayor Rob Friesen said the verdict will have little impact on the town.

"The biggest part for th town was long ago (when the scandal first broke). It's long past that point now," he said.

Whitson said she was "glad it's over, but there's still another four more to go," referring to the pending trials of four others accused in the case.

"It's nice that it's over," said Bill Peters. "It's not going to be the first thing people talk about any longer."

"It's good that a decision is made, yet it's still going to be hard because people are dealing with it," remarked Gwen Friesen who lives in Saskatoon and works for a Martensville business.

Said Glen Gardiner: It's just going to have to be a healing process now."


Police still want reports of abuse

People shouldn't be dissuaded from reporting suspected child abuse because two suspects in the Martensville case were found not guilty Wednesday, Saskatoon police Sgt. Al Sather says.

"If people have any suspicions they have to report it to the police and have it investigated," Sather said in an interview.

Ron and Linda Sterling were found not guilty of various charges of child abuse after a trial in which expert witnesses were critical of the way police and child-care workers conducted their investigation.

That is no reason for people to hesitate in reporting future cases, Sather said.

"This is a different type of investigation (from normal) just in the magnitude of the investigation," he said.

Officers involved in similar investigations are constantly undergoing training and already are very capable of carrying on investigations," he said.

"We are looking at getting our investigators certified," he said, adding there are no immediate plans to change the way investigations takr place.

Over the last few years, scientists have learned a lot about investigating sexual abuse of children but it still boils down to a judgment call, said Dr. John Pearce, co-ordinator of clinical services in child abuse for the Children's Hospital in Calgary.

"We still need to do lots of research about children's memory and cognitive functions," he said in an interview.

Recently, professionals have developed a set of standards that should be used when questioning children who are suspected to be victims of sexual abuse.

"We are a lot better at it now," Pearce said. "Still, it is not an exact science. There are no psychologial tests for sexual abuse and it still depends on a judgment call."

Although a higly publicized case like the Martensville trial may cause people to think twice about reporting suspected cases of child abuse, it isn't likely to be a major factor in any decline in reports, he said.

The problem of sex abuse has received a lot of media attention. Still, reports of cases have continued to increase over the last few years, he said.