A man who approached two young teenagers on a path in St. John’s a year ago, told them they had "nice, sexy bums" and then touched them was taken into custody to begin a three-month jail sentence Friday morning.
Richard Rees, 36, was ready, having brought a duffel bag with him to court.
Judge Colin Flynn sentenced Rees to 90 days behind bars for a charge of sexual interference, and 15 more days for a charge of breaching a previous court order. With credit given for the three days Rees spent in the lockup when he was first arrested, he has 102 days to serve.
Under Canadian law, 90 days is the mandatory minimum sentence for a sexual interference charge.
"Even if there wasn't a mandatory minimum, I would impose a period of custody," Flynn said. "I think the circumstances of the case would suggest to me that a 90-day period of custody is appropriate for the offence of which I've found the accused guilty."
Flynn sentenced Rees to two years probation following his sentence, with mandatory counselling and a ban from contact with the two young complainants. He also ordered Rees named to the national sex offender registry for 10 years.
Two girls, who were 13 and 14 at the time, said they had been walking on a path next to Sobeys on Ropewalk Lane late one afternoon last April when they heard someone call out "Hey!" behind them.
They yelled "Hi" back, thinking it was another teenager, they each testified, but when the person got closer, they saw it was a much older man on a bicycle.
The girls said the man — whom they both identified as Rees, having seen him around — offered them beer from a brown paper bag, but they declined it. He smelled like alcohol, they said, and seemed wobbly when he got off his bike and walked behind them.
"He made a few comments like, 'You're both really beautiful,' 'You have nice butts' and that we had big thighs and he thought it was hot," the younger girl said. "It was weird and we felt really uncomfortable."
One of the girls told the court Rees had put his hand on her lower back, so she moved to walk on the other side of her friend. She said she saw Rees touch her friend's waist, thighs and bum, and at one point he appeared to be trying to put his hand down the top of her leggings.
The older girl told the court Rees had touched her bum twice, and had put two fingers down the waist of her leggings, after telling her and her friend that they had "nice, sexy bums" and were "beautiful ladies."
The older girl said that when she and her friend reached the end of the path, at the Sobeys parking lot, they saw a woman they knew, in her vehicle. The girl said she waved the woman over as her friend continued walking across the street to Tim Hortons.
Flynn convicted Rees of sexual interference against the elder girl and dismissed the charge against the younger. The judge said although he accepted the testimony of the younger girl, calling her "forthcoming and straightforward," he could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Rees's "momentary touching of her back" was for a sexual purpose.
The older girl, who held hands in the courtroom with her family members as Rees's sentencing hearing took place, submitted a victim impact statement to the court and described suffering emotionally, missing so much school her grades slipped, and turning to marijuana for a period of time. She spoke of withdrawing from friends, and self-harming, and said she had gone to hospital twice with suicidal thoughts.
"I thought back on the day this happened and he disrespected my body," the girl wrote in her statement, which was read aloud in court by Crown prosecutor Robin Singleton. "I'll never look at myself the same. I look at what happened as disrespectful to me."
Singleton argued for a 5 1/2-month jail sentence for Rees, saying the minimum wasn't appropriate due to the impact his crime has had on the girl, his issues with alcohol and the fact that he has a criminal record, though not for sexual offences.
"Despite that the actual touching might not be the most serious, there is more to this case than that," she said.
Defence lawyer Derek Hogan argued for the minimum 90 days for the sexual offence and time served for the breach, saying the touching could be seen as being on the low end of the scale.
Rees's last criminal conviction was five years ago, Hogan said, and acknowledged his client needs counselling for alcohol issues.
The judge acknowledged the impact Rees's actions have had on the young girl, and said legal precedents from across the country suggested a jail sentence of three months is appropriate.