A jury has acquitted two Saskatchewan men accused of plying a 12-year-old girl with beer and then trying to have sex with her.
After deliberating for 13 hours, the eight-woman, four-man jury returned Thursday night with verdicts of not guilty for Jeffrey Brown, 25, and Jeffrey Kindrat, 21, both from the nearby town of Tisdale.
The two had been charged with sexual assault along with their companion Dean Edmondson, who was convicted at a separate trial last month. He is to be sentenced on Sept. 3.
Relatives of the girl were crying after the verdict was read. They accused the justice system of racism. The girl is native and the three men are white.
"If you've got the dollars and the lawyers, you can go rape our children, come to court, and the white jury will say there was consent," said a relative of the girl. Both cannot be identified because it would identify the girl.
When Mr. Kindrat left court, he did not comment.
"Don't smile for too long, buddy," the relative said to Mr. Kindrat as he and his parents left court. "Rapist," he added.
Crown Prosecutor Gary Parker said the girl's lack of detail about what happened outside the truck hurt the case.
The court heard the girl left her home on the Yellow Quill reserve after an argument with her mother in September 2001. She walked to the small town of Chelan and met the three men while she sat on the steps of a bar. They offered her a ride in their pickup truck and she accepted.
The girl, now 14, testified she did not want to have sex with the men and tried to pull her pants back up when Mr. Brown pulled them down.
Mr. Edmondson, 26, testified the sexual activity started when the girl jumped into his lap and began kissing him. Mr. Edmondson testified that all of them were drunk when they pulled over on a road near Tisdale and took turns trying to have sex with her. But he said he was unable to get an erection and he didn't see if his friends were any more successful.
A police tape played in court showed Mr. Kindrat telling officers he couldn't get an erection because he was too drunk and that Mr. Brown also attempted intercourse. However, Mr. Brown then told police no sexual activity took place between any of them.
In his instructions to the jury, Justice Fred Kovach noted the girl told the men she was nearly 15 and there was no evidence that she was forced into their truck or coerced into drinking beer. The legal age for consent to sex is 14.
He told the jury the accused could be found not guilty if they took reasonable steps to determine the girl's age and honestly believed she was at least 14.
The case magnified racial tensions in Melfort, a central Saskatchewan farming community of 6,000.
The Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism and the Saskatchewan Action Committee for the Status of Women both harshly criticized the court process. Members of both groups were present for the verdict and said they were ashamed of the justice system.
At Mr. Edmondson's trial, his lawyer had to speak over a large group of loud aboriginal drummers and singers demonstrating outside during his closing remarks to the jury.