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Charges in high-profile Halifax sex assault case withdrawn after accused dies in homicide

Click to play video: 'Homicide victim identified as man awaiting trial on sexual assault charges' Homicide victim identified as man awaiting trial on sexual assault charges
A man awaiting trial on sexual assault and forcible confinement charges has been killed. He was due back in court this week, but was found dead inside a Dartmouth home over the weekend. Police have ruled Alexander Joseph Frederick Thomas’s death a homicide. A warning, viewers may find the content of this story disturbing. Callum Smith reports. – Nov 15, 2021

Charges against a man accused in a high-profile sexual assault case have been withdrawn after he was killed in a homicide over the weekend.

In February 2020, Alexander Joseph Frederick Thomas, 35, was charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident that occurred in 2018.

Early Saturday, police found Thomas’s body at a residence on Braeside Court. His death has been ruled a homicide.

Read more: Dartmouth death ruled a homicide, victim identified as accused in sex assault case

Carrie Low, who identified herself as the complainant in the sexual assault case, had been outspoken about the incident and how she said Halifax Regional Police mishandled the case.

The Nova Scotia Complaints Commissioner initially rejected her complaint because it was beyond the time limit to file a complaint, but that decision was later overturned by a judicial review.

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A pre-trial application hearing for the sexual assault case was set for Tuesday morning in Dartmouth Provincial Court. However, given that Thomas had been killed, the Crown did not offer evidence and the charges against him were withdrawn.

Thomas’s defence had planned to call pretrial testimony from an RCMP investigator, who was expected to allege police conduct was so flawed that Thomas’s constitutional right to a fair trial had been breached.

Read more: Man charged with sexual assault in connection with 2018 incident in East Preston

“A truly unfortunate way that any case ends,” said Judge Ted Tax during the proceeding.

It’s “fortunately rarely that these circumstances do arise, but unfortunately, that is the situation that we’re faced with today,” he said.

“As a result, these matters are at an end in the provincial court.”

Outside court, Crown lawyers said the police investigation into the sexual assault remains active, adding that they had intended to call their own witnesses to refute defence assertions of police misconduct.

Low – who sought and received a court order permitting the use of her name – has alleged an improper “pattern of conduct” by the Halifax regional police and the RCMP in her case. She says members of their joint sexual assault investigation team didn’t visit the scene and were slow to have her clothing and blood tests processed.

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She has also alleged that when she inquired in March of 2019 about her rape kit, she learned it hadn’t been processed. She said she received confusing and contradictory messages on the progress of her case from various officers who were members of the sexual assault investigation team.

Low fought before the courts to have her allegations examined by the Office of Police Complaints Commissioner and launched a lawsuit against police.

The provincial commissioner considers citizen complaints of police misconduct. The RCMP involvement in Low’s case was already investigated through the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, but the findings have not been made public.

Low’s lawyers with the Elizabeth Fry Society have suggested the now-dismissed trial might have helped her get to the bottom of what happened to her case.

Mark Bailey, the defence lawyer for Thomas, was planning to call pretrial testimony from the initial RCMP investigator, who he anticipated would allege police conduct was so flawed that Thomas’s constitutional rights to a fair trial had been breached.

In his summarizing brief, which is not sworn testimony, Bailey said Const. Jerrell Smith – the initial RCMP investigator with the sexual assault team – had encountered resistance from his superiors in pursuing the case. Smith was not willing to provide an interview, when contacted through Bailey.

Low has alleged that she was taken from a Dartmouth bar in a car, driven to a site outside Halifax and sexually assaulted by two men. She went to the hospital in Dartmouth the next day, where rape tests were carried out and she encountered a police officer, whom she informed of her assault.

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In the defence brief, Smith is quoted as saying after he was assigned the file, senior officers told him there was video evidence that contradicted Low’s account, but when he examined the footage he didn’t agree. Smith “came to the conclusion he was being intentionally misled about Ms. Low’s file,” the brief says, and he decided to proceed with the investigation.

The brief anticipated Smith would testify that police erred by allowing Low to store the clothing she had worn the night of the assault at her parents’ home for weeks. “Const. Smith will testify that the initial stages of the investigation were so flawed and improper that it made it impossible to properly investigate the file,” says the brief.

The brief says during the summer of 2018, the constable was directed to stop his investigation and close the file by supervisors. It says at some point Smith went on medical leave, and he remains on leave.

The brief also alleges that it “came to Const. Smith’s attention” that another officer had modified and changed the initial reports he’d generated, as the investigation shifted focus to a new suspect.

Outside court, Crown lawyer Alicia Kennedy said prosecutors had intended to call their own witnesses to counter the defence assertions.

“Unfortunately, because of what’s happened, we can’t call that evidence to have that heard in public court,” Kennedy said. “But certainly we have witnesses that were going to refute the allegations in this defence brief.”

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In its brief, which is unproven in court, the Crown said there was DNA evidence linking the accused to Low’s clothing.

Homicide investigation in early stages

On Sunday, Emma Halpern, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Nova Scotia and a member of Low’s legal team, said in a statement that Low was still processing the news.

“Carrie is shaken by the news of Alexander Thomas’ passing. Her sympathies go out to his family and community,” Halpern said.

“She is also concerned about the impact this may have on her quest for justice in her case. Carrie and her legal team are still processing this shocking news and will be determining the way forward in the coming days.”

Read more: Nova Scotians will soon have a year to file a complaint against police

On Monday, Const. John MacLeod, a spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police, said the investigation is still in its early stages. He was unable to say if the homicide was related to the sexual assault case.

“Certainly, they’re looking at all avenues,” he said. “All information will have to be considered when they’re looking at how to resolve this.”

— with files from The Canadian Press, Rebecca Lau and Callum Smith

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