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Trial on hold for coach accused of sex crimes against teen figure skaters

Matthew Power, 29, and lawyer Rosellen Sullivan are pushing to have several of his charges dismissed. Power has been on trial since last week, accused of sex crimes against minors. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)
Matthew Power, 29, and lawyer Rosellen Sullivan are pushing to have several of his charges dismissed. Power has been on trial since last week, accused of sex crimes against minors. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains graphic details of alleged sexual assaults and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence.

The trial of a St. John's metro-area figure skating coach accused of sexual crimes against two teenage girls is on hold as the court debates dismissing some of the charges he's facing.

Matthew Power, 29, coached figure skating under the Skate Newfoundland and Labrador flag for years, training up to a dozen preteen and teenage girls at a time.

But in a multi-day trial that began last week, complainants and witnesses said Power used Snapchat, a messaging app capable of sending pictures that are deleted as soon as they're opened, to discuss sexual activity with two of his teenage skaters.

Power's attorney, Rosellen Sullivan, is now applying to dismiss the charges related to those Snapchat messages, arguing the prosecution hasn't supplied enough evidence to support them.

Power is accused of sexual assault, child luring, sexual interference and making pornography available to minors for alleged crimes that span several years. The Crown has called several witnesses to support its case, including police investigators and two complainants, plus friends and family members, all of whom said they either knew or were familiar with Power.

One mother told the court she thought so highly of her daughter's coach that she considered warning him, at one point, that she'd heard allegations about him and the skaters he coached.

Snapchat major feature of trial

The older of the two complainants, whose identity can't be revealed due to a publication ban on all civilian witnesses, offered detailed testimony about how their alleged sexual relationship began.

On the stand late last week, she said Power added her to Snapchat and started messaging her when she was 14.

She alleged Power, in his early 20s at the time, began hinting that he was interested in knowing her as "more than just a friend" and asking her what would happen if the two were alone together or kissed.

She testified Power progressed to asking her about her breast size and sent photos of his erect penis at least 10 times. She said she once sent him a photo of her breasts and her lower half in underwear.

The complainant said the first instance of sexual touching occurred after Power asked her to help clean out a storage room at a local arena. When they arrived, the storage room was already clean. She said Power arranged mats on the floor and laid down on one, joking that he could take a nap and asking her to sit down beside him.

Two complainants have testified that Power sent sexual messages to them over Snapchat while they were under 18.
Two complainants have testified that Power sent sexual messages to them over Snapchat while they were under 18.

Two complainants have testified Power sent sexual messages to them over Snapchat while they were under 18. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The complainant said she thought it was "weird" at the time and sat on a bench instead. Later that evening, she continued, Power asked to give her a hug, and the two ended up making out for less than a minute.

After that encounter, she said, Power touched her sexually on several occasions, sometimes after driving her home from the arena, when he would park in forested areas and perform digital and oral sex on her.

Power would take pains to hide their relationship, she added, testifying that he once asked her to be quiet when his roommate came home unexpectedly while she was naked in his bed, and would worry about other skaters discovering their tendency to talk over Snapchat.

"If I mentioned I did tell someone he'd get all weird and quiet, like he was mad," she said.

The sexual activity ended when she turned 16 and developed a romantic interest in a boy, who expressed concern at the relationship she had with her adult skating coach, she said.

Sullivan asked the complainant why she didn't reveal significant details about their relationship in her first statement to police, pointing out several discrepancies between the first and second interviews and suggesting the complainant was "editing her evidence" and adding or changing details as the case progressed.

The complainant told her she didn't feel comfortable recalling events in detail when she first spoke to police and had no desire to remember what happened between them.

"Of course I wouldn't remember every single detail the first time I ever talk about it," she said. "I hated that moment of my life."

Defence fighting to dismiss charges

A criminal probe into Power's alleged sexual misconduct began after the younger complainant's mother received photos showing Power allegedly sending sexually explicit Snapchats to her daughter, also a figure skater in the community where Power coached.

The younger complainant said she took photos of the Snapchat messages with another phone before the images disappeared so Power wouldn't be notified through the app that she took a screenshot.

She said she was around 13 when he began messaging her over Snapchat but couldn't remember when those messages allegedly began to turn sexual.

"At the time I knew that he shouldn't be talking to me in that way," she said.

The complainant said she began recording the incoming messages on a second device.

Sullivan has yet to call any evidence.
Sullivan has yet to call any evidence.

Sullivan, who has yet to call any evidence, is applying to dismiss the charges before the trial proceeds. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Over two dozen images showing a partial face with dark hair and text over the image have been submitted as evidence. The complainant's mother testified she could see her daughter's room in the background of those photos, and police forensic evidence uncovered a Snapchat account with a matching username on Power's phone.

Under cross-examination, the complainant said she couldn't remember the context of most of the messages.

Prosecutors are arguing those messages — among them messages that read "well I've been told I'm really good with my tongue" and "my pullout game is strong lol" — contain sexual content. But Sullivan argued Tuesday the evidence supplied by the prosecutor in support of the second complainant's allegations doesn't meet the bar for charges.

She's applying to have those dismissed before deciding whether to call evidence.

That hearing is set for Feb. 8.

Support for survivors of sexual violence is available through crisis lines and local support services via this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database.

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