The man accused of a December 2018 home invasion and assault in Whitehorse has been acquitted, as the judge harboured doubts about the victim’s identification of her attacker.
The events at issue allegedly took place on Dec. 31, 2018. The victim, identified in court documents only by her initials, was followed into her Porter Creek apartment building, thrown to the ground and assaulted.
The accused William Dean Ryan Vaneltsi was arrested months after the attack and charged with break and enter, attempted sexual assault, assault and forcible entry.
Yukon Territorial Court Judge Peter Chisholm delivered the verdict acquitting Vaneltsi on Dec. 7.
The 16-page judgment describes how the victim was lured out of her second-floor apartment by an intercom buzz claiming someone had damaged her car. After inspecting the vehicle, she spoke to a man by the building’s front door. The man at the door followed her through the entrance then up the stairs. When the victim arrived at the door to her apartment she was thrown inside by the assailant.
“She testified that she then saw a flash of the assailant’s red and black plaid jacket, as he threw her into her apartment,” the judgment reads.
The man attacked the victim as she lay on the ground, attempting to push him off of her. She also tried calling 911 as the assailant tried to pull the phone from her hands and then tried to drag her down the apartment’s hallway before eventually running out of the apartment. The victim was then able to call both 911 and her boyfriend.
According to the judgment, the victim described her attacker in an initial statement as a First Nations male with a heavy build standing between 5’8” and 5’10” in height. She thought that he was in his 40s.
The victim would also report seeing a man who might have been her attacker at a grocery store on the day of the attack and later reported seeing a man in her building who also might have been the attacker. Both were later ruled out by police.
She would later identify Vaneltsi’s photograph as that of her assailant from a photo package provided by the police on March 5.
One of the investigating officers who provided testimony said they received a tip in February 2019 with more information and then put together the photo packet. The officer acknowledged that early in the investigation they had concerns that a photo pack could be “fraught with potential unreliability.”
March 2019 search warrant in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, yielded two plaid jackets matching the description of the attacker’s clothing as well as information that eventually lead to Vaneltsi’s arrest in Stewart Crossing a month later.
“It is trite law that a court must carefully scrutinize identification evidence due to its inherent frailties. Many courts have commented on the potential difficulties with eyewitness identification,” Chisholm’s judgment reads.
The judgment found issue with the old photo used to identify Vaneltsi, which was taken in 2012.
Some differing information about the attacker’s description was also provided in police interviews and in court.
Chisholm’s judgment states that he doesn’t question the victim’s credibility as a witness or her sincere belief that it was Vaneltsi who attacked her but said that he was left with reasonable doubts and so had to find him not guilty on all charges.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org