SINGAPORE: A man accused of sexually grooming his stepson over nine years to the extent that the underage boy asked for sexual acts was acquitted of all sex offences against him on Tuesday (May 4).
The 55-year-old man, who cannot be named because of a gag order protecting his stepson's identity, was convicted of two other charges of stalking his stepson's girlfriend and criminal intimidation against his wife and stepson.
He was given a year's jail for these two charges. Since he has been in remand for about two years and five months, he will likely be released on Tuesday or Wednesday.
READ: Woman testifies about her anger when her son told her his stepfather abused him sexually from age 8
The man went on trial for 15 charges including sexual assault by penetration, sexual assault of a minor, outrage of modesty and procuring an indecent act by a child.
However, Justice Chua Lee Ming acquitted him of the 13 assorted charges relating to the sexual abuse of his stepson, who is now 22.
He convicted the man only of stalking his stepson's girlfriend in 2015 and 2016 by sending harassing messages and loitering near her home, and of criminally intimidating his own wife by pointing a chopper at her and saying he was going to kill her son three days after he told his family about the allegations.
THE PROSECUTION'S CASE
According to the prosecution's case, the man sexually groomed his stepson between 2007 and 2012, when the boy was between eight and 14.
They said the boy grew accustomed to the sex acts because of their "sheer frequency" and "even on some occasions, initiated the sexual acts by asking for ... that thing". He was unaware the acts were wrong and was told by the older man to keep their activities a secret, said prosecutors.
When the stepson got a girlfriend in 2015 and introduced her to the offender and his wife, the offender allegedly tried to initiate sex acts again, the prosecution claimed in their case.
According to the prosecution, when the stepson resisted him, the older man began to harass the girlfriend until the stepson gave in. On Jan 15, 2016, when the older man tried to enter the shower with him, the stepson broke down and told his mother about what happened.
Most of his family pressured him against pursuing the matter, but the stepson filed a police report and gave statements to the police, the court heard during the trial.
The stepson's mother testified about her "anger" when she first found out about the allegations but said she continued to visit her husband in prison. She also repeatedly asked her son to withdraw the case "because I felt this was a family problem" and her husband was "already old".
The defence had argued that the stepson's versions of events provided in court were different from all the statements he provided to the police, and that none of the prosecution witnesses was able to corroborate the events.
Their versions were also inconsistent with the stepson's, they argued. Instead, the accused was consistent throughout in his denial of the sexual assault.
THE JUDGE'S FINDINGS
In acquitting the man of the sexual offences, Justice Chua said cases involving such offences require the complainant's evidence to be unusually convincing that the prosecution's case is proven beyond reasonable doubt solely on that basis.
He agreed with the defence - Mr Pramnath Vijayakumar and Ms Sadhana Rai from Law Society Pro Bono Services - that the stepson's evidence is not so unusually convincing as to amount to proof beyond reasonable doubt, because of the "many inconsistencies in his evidence".
"I have come to this conclusion after having considered the evidence in detail, and giving due consideration to, among other things, the lapse of time and the complainant's age at the time of the alleged offences," he said.
Justice Chua said the inconsistencies relate to the manner that the sexual assault was carried out, and are "extensive". He gave specific examples of how the stepson's evidence in court was repeatedly at odds with what he had earlier said in police statements.
In one incident, the stepson testified in court that he recalled a particular sex act in the living room of their one-room flat in 2012 because it was the last time that it happened between him and the accused.
However, in a statement he gave to the police in 2016, he had said that the older man performed the sex act in 2015. The judge gave several other examples of inconsistencies that are too graphic to detail.
"One may argue about the materiality of some of the inconsistencies, viewed in isolation," he said. "However, the inconsistencies have to be viewed in context."
NUMEROUS AND EXTENSIVE INCONSISTENCIES
He said the inconsistencies were both numerous and extensive, and that the prosecution's case was that the stepson was able to pinpoint timeframes of the incidents by relying on his "episodic memory" - such as the first incident of sexual intrusion in 2007 and the first incident of penetration before his PSLE in 2010.
"The impactful nature of these incidents makes the numerous and extensive inconsistencies even more significant," said Justice Chua.
"The complainant has not given credible explanations for the inconsistencies. Viewed in totality and in context, the inconsistencies give rise to grave doubts about the credibility of the complainant’s evidence as to the alleged offences. I agree with the defence that the complainant’s credit has been impeached."
He pointed to other types of evidence that contribute to doubts about the credibility of the stepson's evidence: He had testified that the sexual acts began in 2007 and continued without any breaks, including incidents from January to March 2010.
However, the accused was in prison from May 2009 to March 2010.
When reminded of this fact and given a chance to explain, he maintained that he remembered sexual activity in the first three months of 2010 and later said that "maybe there were" sexual activities.
The offender moved into the one-room flat after marrying his stepson's mother in June 2007. The room was shared by the stepson's sister and her husband, and there were five adults and a baby living in the one-room flat for most of the time.
"I accept that not everyone would have been at home at the same time. Nevertheless, I have doubts about the complainant's allegations that the accused frequently engaged in sexual activities with the complainant at the flat," said the judge.
The stepson had also claimed that he realised the acts were wrong only when he was in Secondary 3 when he began attending science and religious classes. He claimed his religious teacher told him it is sinful for two people of the same gender to have sex.
However, his cousin, who also attended the classes, testified that the complainant went only once or twice a month from 2007 and 2010 because he asked him to. The complainant was not a student, he went just to "hang out" and he did not go in 2013 when he was in Secondary 3, his cousin said.
The judge also noted that while the stepson was diagnosed by the Institute of Mental Health to have panic disorder without agoraphobia, the alleged sexual incidents do not appear to be the stressors.
Instead, the stressors are: That the accused did not believe his stepson was not well, that the accused was in jail and the stress of National Service.
The man could have been jailed for between eight and 20 years if convicted of sexually assaulting a minor.
The penalties for sexual penetration of a minor are a maximum jail term of 10 years, a fine, or both, while molesting a minor draws up to five years' jail, a fine, caning, or any combination of these punishments.
If he had been convicted of committing or procuring the commission of any indecent act with a child, he could have been jailed for up to five years, fined up to S$10,000, or both for the first offence.