Ex-Taliban hostage found not guilty of abusing wife

Ottawa, CanadaUpdated: Dec 20, 2019, 10:57 PM IST
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File photo. Photograph:(Reuters)

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The court has banned identification of the second alleged victim.

A Canadian man once held hostage with his American wife in Afghanistan was on Thursday found not guilty of assaulting her following their release from captivity.

Joshua Boyle, 36, was accused of 19 charges including assault, sexual assault, forcible confinement, criminal harassment and making death threats against his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and another person in the months after the couple returned to Canada after their five-year hostage ordeal.

The court has banned identification of the second alleged victim.

Ontario Court Judge Peter Doody said the evidence was largely circumstantial while neither Boyle nor Coleman were credible or reliable.

"I do not believe her, just as I do not believe Mr. Boyle," he said in court.

Boyle and Coleman, who married in 2011 after meeting in a Star Wars fan chatroom online, were kidnapped by the Taliban during what they described as a backpacking trip through Afghanistan in 2012.

They were later transferred to the custody of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network.

The couple were freed in October 2017, along with their three young children -- all of whom were born in captivity. A fourth was born afterward.

The court heard Boyle's 911 call from the day Coleman walked out of the couple's Ottawa apartment at the end of December 2017. He claimed she was mentally unstable, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and might harm herself.

But the call triggered a police investigation that led to him being charged.

'Cruel and demeaning'

Coleman testified that during five years of captivity, Boyle had become physically abusive, biting, choking, punching, slapping and spanking her, as well as casually threatening to kill her in front of their children.

The abuse, she said, continued after their release.

Boyle denied striking his wife or sexually assaulting her, saying they had "playful and erotic" consensual sex.

Crown co-counsel Meaghan Cunningham in closing arguments had said Boyle believes that "as a husband, he has a right to dominate and subjugate his wife."

"Quiet and obedient, that's what he expected her to be," Cunningham said.

She pointed to a handwritten list of rules -- which Boyle testified were resolutions that had not been acted upon -- requiring Coleman to lose weight, sleep in the nude, plan interesting sex and ensure that he ejaculated at least twice daily.

Coleman also testified that she was spanked with a broomstick for failing to meet the latter demand, but Boyle insisted he reluctantly did so only at her request, for unrelated reasons.

In his decision, the judge said he believed that Boyle demonstrated "animus toward Ms. Coleman and acted in cruel and demeaning ways toward her." 

But his behavior did not establish guilt on any of the criminal charges.

Meanwhile, he said, Coleman's testimony about suffering blackouts and having "difficulty seeing reality right" at times, in relation to her mental health, raised doubts about her credibility as a witness.

"In my view, Ms. Coleman's memory issues raise concerns about her ability to accurately recall the events at issue, the accuracy of what she says she recalls and whether the events described took place."

After the verdict, Boyle hugged his parents.

Outside the Ottawa courthouse, defense lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the ruling was "an incredible relief" for Boyle and his family.

"It's a first step (for Boyle) in getting access and hopefully someday custody of his children," he said. "He's never seen his fourth child and hasn't seen his other children in almost two years."

Coleman currently lives with the four children in the United States.