Lyle Howe found guilty of sexual assault

A jury has found lawyer Lyle Howe guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman in metro in March 2011.

The verdict was delivered Saturday afternoon at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. Howe was found not guilty of allegedly drugging the victim.

Howe, 29, appeared to be stunned by the verdict when it was announced before Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy and about a dozen of Howe’s supporters in the public gallery.

Some were extremely upset at the jury’s decision; there was shouting outside the courtroom and in a nearby stairwell.

Howe could be heard in the staircase shaft using obscenities, and shouting: “What am I going to do?”

A few of Howe’s supporters were in tears. Howe’s wife, who was sitting in the front row of the gallery near her husband, was visibly upset.

MORE: Full trial coverage

Howe is to be sentenced July 30 and isn’t considered a flight risk, so he’s free until then. Kennedy instructed the defence and Crown to prepare pre-sentence reports within six weeks.

Crown attorney Darcy MacPherson told the court he’ll be seeking “a substantial custodial sentence” for Howe. That could mean prison time.

“We haven’t formed a position on sentencing yet,” MacPherson said after the jury presented its ruling. “We haven’t done research that will be necessary.”

MacPherson said he hadn’t spoken with the victim to go over the verdict and other matters.

Howe had pleaded not guilty to allegedly administering a stupefying drug and to sexually assaulting a woman who was 19 years old at the time of the attack. A publication ban is shielding her identity.

Defence lawyer Mike Taylor told reporters after the verdict that Howe’s law career is “destroyed.” Taylor had asked that the jurors be polled; each of the 12 members told Kennedy he or she agreed with the verdict. Taylor said he found the jury’s verdict hard to fathom.

“I certainly thought all along they would have to accept that this complainant had a drug in her system — a stupefying substance in her system — and that Mr. Howe was responsible,” said Taylor, “in order to get to the point where they could be satisfied that he committed a sexual assault, (that is) having sexual contact without consent.”

Asked if his client will appeal the verdict, Taylor said “there’s certainly a reasonable chance of that.”

Howe testified at trial he had consensual sex with the victim. Consent was what the case hinged on, Kennedy told the jury on Friday.

The woman had testified she did not remember some of her time at Howe’s office, where alcohol was consumed following drinks at a bar, and didn’t recall much of anything after she and Howe sat on a sofa later at her apartment and started to kiss.

A nurse from the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre who had examined the victim about 24 hours after the sex assault testified at trial the woman had bruising on her breastbone and a breast. The nurse testified there were physical signs of possible sexual intercourse.

Taylor had attempted to portray the case as one of regret on the part of the victim. He told the jury Wednesday “the complainant regrets the situation that she got herself into and regrets it taking place.”

But the jury didn’t see it that way.Jurors serving at the 16-day trial began deliberating after 1:45 p.m. Friday. They had been sequestered overnight.

On Saturday, the jury posed a question for the judge on the crucial matter of consent. Legal consent means a person must be willing and aware throughout the sexual encounter, the jury heard.

Howe, a criminal lawyer who’s been practising for four years, will soon be the subject of a Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society committee undertaking to determine if he should be suspended from the practice of law.

Darrel Pink, the society’s executive director, said Howe’s clients still have a lawyer. But he said that will change if he gets suspended.

“It will certainly be the society’s position . . . that he ought to be suspended, given the seriousness of the conviction,” said Pink. “If that happens, we would ask the committee to appoint a receiver and we would begin the process of dealing with (Howe’s) clients.”

At trial, the jury heard from 31-year-old Jeffrey Brown, a friend of Howe’s who was originally charged in the sex assault case. His charges were stayed. Brown was convicted of a theft charge stemming from the crime.

Brown had told the court he saw Howe use multiple condoms while having sex with the woman. He testified she appeared to be tipsy but not drunk.

The victim had testified she woke up naked and disoriented in her apartment, and had little memory of what went on there. She found condoms strewn about the premises, court heard.

According to the website for Howe’s law business, he’s a north-end Halifax native from humble beginnings who worked diligently as a student.

Howe graduated from Dalhousie University’s law school and was called to the bar in 2010. The website says he worked at law firms in Halifax and Dartmouth before opening Howe Law in August 2011.

His wife, Laura McCarthy, is also a lawyer who joined Howe Law last year. The website says they are the parents of a young son.

Click here to see original article written by Michael Lightstone and Eva Hoare, Chronicle Herald Staff Reporter

May 31, 2014