Was justice done? Fund reports on a rape trial & the appeal
Your faith in the justice system will either be restored—or totally undermined by this true story of a man accused of rape
The verdict was guilty, but now high powered lawyer Marie Henein is fighting to have it overturned
When I wrote On Trial for Rape last year, I took readers inside the courtroom to see what a regular, non-headline-making sexual assault trial looks like. Now, I want to take you back to court for another very different trial, which raises still more questions about how our legal system deals with sexual assault. This is a very hot topic nowadays, and I want to give you facts and reporting so that you can be the judge.
In a series of articles, I am proposing to tell the untold story of Li Peng*, marketing executive and amateur photographer, who was found guilty of the sexual assault of Cecilia Yang*, student and aspiring model. After the verdict, Li hired Jian Ghomeshi’s team of Marie Henein and Danielle Robitaille to launch an appeal, which will be heard this fall.
According to Li, when he was arrested in September 2013 a year after the events in question, he had no idea who had accused him of rape. He was plunged into a surreal world where his name and mugshot were all over the news, he was fired from his job, and the police were asking further victims to come forward.
At his trial, Li and Yang were the only witnesses. There was no forensic evidence. It was a classic “he said, she said” case with Yang saying she was raped and Li saying he had never touched her.
Li’s lawyer suggested that Yang had accused her client out of revenge, after he spurned her advances.
The prosecutor argued that the notion Li “rejected this young 18-year-old girl who makes a sexual pass at him -- and that’s the reason she has him charged with sexual assault” -- didn’t make any sense. He called Li’s story the concocted product of a narcissist's imagination, and said Li was a man who couldn’t bear rejection.
Li was grilled about everything from the cost of his watch and the provenance of his custom made suit to his taste in women and the details of how he came to own five Toronto residences at age 36.
As the closing arguments ended, the judge said to the Crown, “It sounds like you’re asking me to find him guilty because he’s creepy … And he may be creepy or not creepy, I don’t know, but that’s not a reason not to believe him.”
Eventually, the judge came to the conclusion that he did not believe Li Peng. “I reject his evidence,” he told the court a week later. “I do not find it to be plausible. It does not leave me in a state of reasonable doubt. In contrast, I accept (Cecilia Yang’s) evidence.”
Li and his lawyer were visibly shocked. And if I read the situation correctly, the rest of the courtroom was also pretty surprised. Yang was not present.
On November 24, 2015 Li was sentenced to two years in prison and one year of probation, and led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Shortly after, he was released on bail pending the results of his appeal.
Marie Henein is asking that the conviction be quashed and that an acquittal be entered or a new trial granted.
Li Peng’s appeal will be heard on November 8th of this year.
I am proposing to write a 10,000-word series of articles about his trial, the verdict, the appeal and the appeal decision.
*Li Peng and Cecilia Yang are pseudonyms
Risks and challenges
If the funding goal is met, the first articles on the trial, verdict and sentencing will be sent during the first week of October. All the reporting has already been done. There is almost no risk.
The articles on the appeal will be prepared within a week of the hearing, now set for November 8, 2016. Breaking news of the appeal decision will be emailed immediately with a lengthier follow-up sent within a week of the ruling.
The only risk I am taking here is the risk of rejection and not finding enough potential readers.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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