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Guilty verdict in Fountainhead trial

Judge doesn't buy Woodward's self-defence claim

"Mr Woodward has fabricated that story to justify his outrageous assault on Mr Dowrey," Judge Jocelyn Palmer ruled this morning in Vancouver Provincial Court. Credit: Shimon Karmel photo

Guilty.

That’s the decision of provincial court Judge Jocelyn Palmer in the charge of aggravated assault against Shawn Woodward for his March 13, 2009 punch that left a gay Vancouver man in a Fraser Valley care home.

Woodward had relied on a self-defence claim to extricate himself from the charges. He testified that Ritchie Dowrey had touched his crotch in Vancouver’s Fountainhead Pub.

Palmer wasn’t buying it.

“I find there is no air of reality to Mr Woodward’s evidence about the alleged sexual assault,” she told a courtroom packed with more than 80 people, including members of the queer community, Dowrey’s family and pub staff.

“Mr Woodward has fabricated that story to justify his outrageous assault on Mr Dowrey.”

She said Woodward went directly towards Dowrey with the sole purpose of punching him to protect his own manhood.

Woodward had testified that he knew he was in a gay bar, having been there before.

“He stated gratuitously that he was unaffected by that,” Palmer said.

Woodward told the court Dowrey had offered to buy him a drink, touched him on the shoulder and later put his arm around him before grazing his thigh.

“He’s a faggot. He deserved it. The faggot touched me. He deserved it,” pub patron Lindsay Wincherauk testified Woodward told witnesses while being detained for police.

Woodward told police he wanted Dowrey charged with sexual assault.

“I felt his hand graze across my thigh toward my crotch,” Woodward testified at trial. “I closed my fist and punched him in the chin. He fumbled backwards and fell.”

But, Palmer noted, Wincherauk testified he could see Dowrey’s hands while Woodward had his back to Wincherauk prior to the punch.

That the punch happened was not in contention in the case, having been admitted by Crown and defence.

Several witnesses saw it and the judge accepted their testimony.

She quoted Wincherauk as saying Woodward “hit Mr Dowrey square on the right side of his face with a sickening thud.”

Dowrey then fell straight backward and hit his head on a tile floor.

Palmer also appeared to have no issues with the testimony of head bartender Scott Larin who also testified to hearing Woodward say, “He’s a faggot, he deserved it.”

Palmer said Larin “characterized the accused’s tone as if he had done something good.”

Larin testified Dowrey had one double gin and had ordered a second, which was waiting on the bar untouched at the time of the assault.

The judge questioned the testimony of Woodward’s longtime friend and roommate Greg Price.

Price had testified Dowrey was slurring his words.

But, Palmer said, evidence indicated Price could not hear Dowrey.

Price had told the court he had been invited down to the bar by Woodward who paid for a cab to get him there – even though they were supposedly planning to go for dinner afterwards.

The judge noted that Price, “supposedly an avid Canucks fan,” could not remember who was playing that night.

Palmer found Price was “hedgy” on the stand, and had aligned his evidence with Woodward’s.

But Palmer saved most of her criticism for Woodward.

She found he embellished or adjusted his evidence at various times.

“I did not find Mr Woodward to be a credible witness,” she said. “I did not believe his evidence.

“I find Mr Woodward is prepared to deny, deflect and dissemble.”

However, she added, she did accept Woodward’s evidence that he was offended by Dowrey’s possible suggestion he was gay.

Woodward testified that Dowrey told him, “You’ll be back” right before he punched him.

Outside court, Woodward remained silent as reporters and cameras chased him down the street asking if he had a message for the man he is now convicted of assaulting.

Dowrey himself cannot comment as a result of the brain injuries he sustained. He remains in a care home where he is unable to clothe, feed or clean himself.

“In this case, the complainant is unable to testify due to the injuries he sustained,” Palmer noted.

She said medical evidence showed Dowrey sustained a skull fracture from the punch. Other injuries, which the court heard earlier, included a shifting of the brain and bleeding in the skull.

The case now moves to Oct 22 for sentencing.

It’s at that point that any evidence of a hate crime would be presented to Palmer for a stiffer sentence.

Crown spokesperson Neil MacKenzie would not comment on what would be presented to the judge at sentencing.

“We will take into account the findings that the court made with respect to this incident,” he says, acknowledging the judge “clearly used some strong language.”

When Palmer announced her guilty verdict, some people in the gallery began clapping.

“Don’t you dare,” a stern Palmer admonished, as sheriffs moved around Woodward and lawyer Joel Whysall before clearing the courtroom.

Members of the gay community want to see a hate crime designation in the case.

Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere says Palmer’s judgment opens the door for such a designation.

He believes it was readily apparent Woodward went to the pub that night “to bash fags.”

Stipp says the ruling is an indication that the days of the homo panic defence are over.

“The whole notion of self-defence was ripped apart in that judgment,” Stipp says.

Palmer’s ruling sends an important message to would-be gaybashers, says Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of BC’s queer resource centre Qmunity.

“If folks are looking to cause trouble on Davie, know that the police are looking out for us and we’re looking out for each other.”

Fountainhead manager Derek White says no matter what Woodward’s punishment is, nothing will bring back Dowrey.

“I’m glad she [the judge] was able to see through his lies,” White says.

Asked what message Palmer’s decision sends to potential bashers, White says, “Don’t do it. This is our community. We’re going to nurture this as a safe environment. We will not be bullied.”

Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller was in court and called Palmer’s ruling a good decision.

“The family has been amazing through this,” she says. “They’re the real heroes who have survived this hellish ordeal.”

“Ritchie’s not coming back,” Wincherauk says. “I’m glad there’s an outcome where justice will be served.”