DNA expert testifies as Bassam Al-Rawi’s sexual assault trial resumes
Warning: This story contains explicit details of an alleged sexual assault. Discretion is advised.
A forensic scientist and expert in bodily fluids took the stand on Monday as the sexual assault trial of a former Halifax cab driver resumed in the city’s provincial court.
Bassam Al-Rawi is accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was found unconscious in the back of his taxi in May 2015, naked from the waist down and intoxicated.
Martin Westecott answered questions about the DNA samples collected from both the complainant and Al-Rawi in the hours after the incident.
He produced three reports in the subsequent months that revealed multiple DNA profiles — some that may be a match to the complainant, and Al-Rawi.
The complainant’s identity is protected by a publication ban.
Westecott described swabs taken from Al-Rawi’s lips, palms and genitals, and from the woman’s underwear. The palm swabs, he said, generated at least four DNA profiles, but the samples weren’t large enough to match them with anyone. The woman’s underwear sample, similarly, was insufficient for DNA testing.
But the lip swab, he told the court, revealed two distinct DNA profiles — one male and one female. The female DNA made up the bulk of the sample, and Westecott said he couldn’t rule out the complainant as its source.
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Both the Crown and defence attorneys quizzed Westecott on the likelihood that the DNA could belong to someone other than Al-Rawi and the complainant.
The defence, in particular, focused on the different ways that foreign DNA could have landed on Al-Rawi, such as cash exchange, spitting while speaking, vomiting, or a kiss.
The case is a retrial — Al-Rawi was initially acquitted in March 2017 after a judge ruled that there was no evidence that the woman did not consent. That decision was determined to be erroneous last January in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
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The case was adjourned earlier this year following concerns that Al-Rawi was not able to adequately understand the evidence against him through an Arabic-to-English translator. A new interpreter was provided in court on Monday, and the first portion of the proceedings was spent replaying, and re-translating, recordings from the last court date.
To date, the retrial has heard from several Crown witnesses; a police constable testified she found the alleged victim, now in her late 20s, passed out and mostly naked in the back of a taxi, the driver between her legs.
The complainant told the court she was drunk on the evening of May 22, 2015, and does not remember leaving a downtown bar, but remembers standing at Boomers Lounge that night. Her next memory was being in a hospital with two nurses and a police officer.
The woman testified she would not have consented to sex with the cab driver.
“I simply would not consent to any manner of sexual contact with a stranger – someone much older than me who is on the job,” the woman told the retrial in January.
Al-Rawi, who is in his early 40s, also faces a sexual assault charge related to an incident in 2012. That case will be heard in Supreme Court.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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