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Hilton's grounds for appeal

The Report Newsmagazine, 2001 04 30, pp. 23, 24

LAW

Hilton's grounds for appeal

A Montreal judge KOs a champion boxer by believing his accusers' extraordinary testimony

By LOUISE MALENFANT

Montrealers could not have been too surprised when they learned David Hilton Jr., one of the storied "Fightin' Hilton" clan, had had another scrape with the law. After all, three-time Golden Glove winner David Hilton Sr. had raised his five sons to talk with their fists, both in and outside a boxing ring. His name-sake child was particularly troublesome and had a long criminal record, including convictions for assault, drunk driving and armed robbery. But he also had the most successful boxing career of the bunch, culminating in his winning the World Boxing Council's super-middleweight title December 15, 2000.

Three months later, however, he stood in a Montreal courtroom to hear Justice Rolande Matte find him guilty of nine counts of sexual abuse. But true to the never-say-die creed of the clan, Davey Jr. is appealing the convictions on the grounds the judge placed too much faith in the unusual testimony of the alleged victims.

The charges relate to allegations by two teenaged girls, aged 16 and 17 at the time of trial. They said the assaults occurred between 1995 and 1998 when Hilton had a relationship with their mother. The girls testified the assaults frequently occurred when their mother was in the same bed. One assault is even alleged to have occurred in the back seat of a car while the mother was driving. Another is said to have occurred in a motel room where other family members were sleeping, Similarly, a further assault is supposed to have occurred when Hilton and the girls, along with several others, slept in the living room of his family home. One of the girls also claimed an assault took place in a motel room while a friend of the accused, a professional female wrestler, slept in the same room.

In each instance, the people said to have been in the vicinity of the assaults testified they saw nothing sexual transpire. Nevertheless, the judge said this does not prove the boxer's innocence, because "It is of the very nature of those types of [sexual] offences that they be hidden." Moreover, following a curious line of thought, she said the witnesses' failure to see anything actually added credibility to the accusers' claims. "It seems to me that had they invented their version, it would have been basic, simple, rudimentary and not the complicated one that they delivered to the Court," she reasoned. "For

[Picture of Hilton here]

Boxer Hilton (left) on his way to hear the verdict:
The witnesses' failure to see anything added credibility to the accusers' claim

example, [the eldest sister] would not have included in her story potential witnesses who were likely to contradict her." Madam Justice Matte made similar comments regarding the fact that the mother of the girls saw nothing.

No credibility specialists or sex-abuse experts testified on behalf of the defence at trial. Furthermore, no comprehensive evaluation of the allegations was ever conducted. This could be significant, because, in an article published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, Thomas Gutheil, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues noted that "a narrow focus on the reporter [of the allegation] and ignorance or dismissal of the broader contextual factors" is what often leads to the acceptance of a false charge.

In a recent interview, Prof. Gutheil noted that, in general, an alleged victim's claims of assaults taking place in the presence of potential witnesses is certainly a significant factor in determining the plausibility of the allegation. He says such claims might point to the argument that the allegation is false, especially if it is denied by the alleged witnesses. On the other hand, the guilt that perpetrators feel may lead them "to set themselves up so they will get caught." Another possibility, Prof. Gutheil says, is that the potential for getting caught may be "part of the thrill" of the offence. Which of these elements might be at play in any case cannot be determined without a full clinical assessment of the contextual factors surrounding the allegation.

Trial observer Stephane Giroux, a CTV reporter, notes Hilton's defence was that he was never alone with the girls and so had no opportunity to commit the crime. However, given his relationship to the mother of the girls, this seemed to [Mr.] Giroux like a desperate and somewhat unrealistic claim.[1] [He] also points out Hilton frequently claimed he could not remember certain events because of his alcoholism, yet still recounted other facts with a clear memory, which gave his testimony an air of selective convenience.

Furthermore, Madam Justice Matte found the girls' testimony "coherent, logical, spontaneous and often very artless. It contained many vivid details, and if some facts may appear astonishing, I consider that none is unreasonable in light of all the circumstances."

[T]his is where the judge's decision may run into trouble, for it has been noted by other courts that it is not enough to assess credibility on the basis of demeanour alone.[2] In the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of R. v. W.G., the court overturned a conviction for sexual offences because the trial judge failed to judge credibility "in the overall context of the plausibility of the conduct" alleged. The court found that once the trial judge decided he believed the complainant, the onus was unfairly shifted to the accused, "to give some explanation as to why the complainant would lie."

The Ontario decision also noted that "the real test of the truth of the story of a witness in such a case must be its harmony with the preponderance of the probabilities which a practical and informed person would readily recognize as reasonable." The Quebec Court of Appeal will be left to decide whether the Hilton judgment is consistent with this principle.

Meanwhile, Hilton was being held two weeks ago at the Riviere des Prairies detention centre, where he was awaiting sentencing. There, he was quoted as saying he prays each night for God to help him and that God knows he is innocent.

The Report Newsmagazine

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Corrections:
The printed version of the article contains the following errors, it:

1.) misidentifies the sex of the CTV reporter. He is a Mr. Giroux, definitely male and not a Ms.

2.) incorrectly states that defence lawyer Paul Skolnick suggests that and why Judge Matte's decision may run into trouble, but it was not he who suggested that. It is the author of the article who does.  Mr. Skolnick made no statement to the author.

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Posted 2001 04 26


Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.

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