Robert Ernest Palmer

SAINT JOHN – A 72-year old man was found guilty Thursday of sexually assaulting two of his daughter’s friends between 1982 and 1995. Robert Ernest Palmer of Broadway Avenue in east Saint John was not credible when he defended himself against the testimony of the two independent witnesses, said provincial court Judge Alfred Brien. Both victims, now in their 30s, lived in the neighbourhood when they were young.

They each recently complained independently to the police and only reconnected in court, the judge said. They did not request a ban on publishing information that would identify them but the judge did not use their names in court. The victims often slept over at the Palmers, either sharing a bedroom with the daughter, or sleeping on a bed in the hall outside her bedroom.

The first victim said she was sexually assaulted five to 12 times from 1982 and 1992, when she would have been four to 14 years old. It started with touching private areas covered by clothes and progressed to sexual acts. Palmer would often come to the bedroom where the girls slept, but the incidents only happened when he was sure his own daughter was asleep, according to the judge’s summary of the testimony. The first victim said the abuse stopped when she was 14 and told him when he came to the room that she would scream if he touched her.

The second victim, who had no brothers and sisters, said the abuse started when she was around 10 and she went to the home knowing she would be abused but craved the warmth of the other parts of the family life. When she reached her young teen years she finally understood the behaviour was wrong and stopped visiting. The touching of both girls started with what Palmer called the claw game, which he said he used to settle arguments. He told the children the claw would get them and said he only touched them on the neck or shoulder area. He also told the judge he only used it on his own children. But both his son and daughter testified he used it with other kids and would grab them by the knee as well the shoulder. The victims said it was during the claw game that he first touched them on the breast and private areas, before coming to the bedroom at night when his daughter was asleep.

Because Palmer’s description of the claw game didn’t match the testimony of his own children, the judge ruled he was not a reliable witness. Sentencing was adjourned until July 21 after defence lawyer John King asked for a pre-sentence report. Palmer was allowed to return home until then, but prosecutor Jim McAvity said he will be asking for jail time.

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Provided by the Sexual Abuse Network of Canada