Cornwall father guilty on 30 charges of family abuse; court hears of children beaten, burned and sexually assaulted

The Cornwall courthouse at 29 Second Street West. (Newswatch Group/File)

WARNING: The following story contains details of abuse which some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.

CORNWALL – A Cornwall father has been convicted on 30 of the 32 charges he was facing in a horrific narrative of child and animal abuse spread over several years within the confines of the family home.

Judge Rommel Masse delivered his verdict Tuesday in a city courtroom in a decision that took over two hours to read into the court record.

Those charges included multiple counts of assault, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and intimidation and single counts of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, incest and possession of child pornography.

One count of sexual assault was stayed due to the other convictions on the more serious sexual charges while one count of assault in connection to the man’s wife was dismissed because the Crown didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The wife was never called to testify during the trial. The children did testify, through videotaped statements and on the stand, via closed-circuit television.

Due to a court-ordered publication ban, we are not able to identify the father, the family members or any evidence that would potentially identify them.

The judge recounted in vivid detail the father’s brand of corporal punishment on the children, which included hitting them with a wooden stick, a chair, a length of PVC pipe which he swung “like a baseball bat”, a propane tank, a hard plastic mug and a baker’s rolling pin.

The acts on the teen and pre-teen children occurred over a 10 year period, starting in 2004.

In one case, one of his sons was severely burned after his hand was held in front of a propane heater for not answering questions to his satisfaction.

In some cases, some of the children were made to carry out punishment on their siblings. They were also put outside in the cold for periods of time with little or no clothing as a form of punishment.

The children lived in constant fear of their father, court heard, and the patriarch of the family had invented “cover stories” to account for the injuries, which included many instances of physical bruising.

As for the mother, court heard that under that aura of fear she didn’t intervene in the acts, other than to yell at her husband when the tension escalated in the home.

In what the judge called a “highly dysfunctional family,” there was a continual story line of food being stolen within the household that was hidden in holes and cavities in a bed mattress, bedposts and walls. Some children were also subjected to a “jail food regime” – bread and water – sometimes for weeks, according to their testimony.

There was also abuse on two animals within the home. A cat was killed – bludgeoned to death with a stick or golf club – for doing its business within the house. The children were made to clean up the remains. A dog was also hanged but managed to break free of its collar and ran away.

The homestead was also described as being in a state of disrepair where finances were tight and utilities were being shut off.

Court also heard about a sexual relationship between the man and his 13-year-old daughter, which included evidence of sexually-charged Facebook chat messages and pictures entered as evidence during the trial.

Judge Masse found the father was “clearly the instigator” in the inappropriate relationship, which included oral and vaginal intercourse, occurring 10-12 times a month. It happened either late at night or when the mother was out of the house with the other children.

“The relationship evolved to where the accused believed they were a couple. Her father used to talk about the two of them moving away and starting a family of their own,” the judge said in recounting the girl’s testimony.

The sexual relationship came to a halt after it was discovered by another family member outside the household, who confronted the accused. Shortly after, the father was admitted to hospital’s psychiatric ward, admitting to hospital staff there was a relationship but that he was the victim of his teenage daughter’s advances.

“I do not believe him…the reasons why are numerous,” Judge Masse said in his decision, describing the father as a “manipulative man.”

He said the father’s account of providing sexually-charged messages and naked photos of himself to his daughter as “providing her with mental stimulation” to tone down her sexual advances was “absolutely ludicrous.”

The judge also didn’t buy the man’s selective memory loss of stressful events. “The only stressful times he does not remember are the times when he himself engages in criminal behaviour. I conclude that his episodic memory losses are just memory (losses) of convenience.”

While there was some inconsistencies in their testimony, Masse accepted the evidence from the children as credible. In fact, Masse said he would have been suspicious had the children’s testimony “perfectly dovetailed”.

“I found all of the children to be believable and their descriptions in the abuse they suffered, even considering the inconsistencies and contradictions in their testimony,” Masse said. He also ruled out any type of collusion or conspiracy, saying most of the children lacked the sophistication to carry out such a task.

“They described physical and emotional abuse that was pervasive, frequent and long standing,” he said.

All of the children have since been moved into foster homes.

As he heard the judge’s ruling, the father sat in the prisoner’s box with his arms and legs crossed and had no reaction when the horrific details of abuse were outlined, though he did seem flustered when evidence surrounding the food issues were read into the record.

The father will be sentenced on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. It’s anticipated that victim impact statements will be read at that time. In the meantime, court has ordered an updated mental health assessment and a pre-sentence report.