6 February 2023

Guilty verdicts for man who sexually assaulted sleeping friend met with tears in court

| Albert McKnight
Thomas Earle

Thomas Earle, 26, approaches Canberra’s courts on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains a discussion of a sexual assault.

The announcement that a man was guilty of sexually assaulting his friend, starting while she was sleeping, was met with tears and sounds of anguish in court.

The 12 jurors in the ACT Supreme Court trial of Thomas Earle had deliberated for about a day before returning to court on Friday (3 February) and finding him guilty of two charges.

These were committing an act of indecency and sexual intercourse without consent. However, the 26-year-old was found not guilty of two other counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

Earle’s parents were sitting in the court’s gallery and began crying after the guilty verdicts were announced, while their son stared straight ahead.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum dismissed the jury and continued bail, in part saying there was no suggestion of a risk of reoffending, to the sentencing on 14 April.

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When the trial started on Monday (30 January), jurors heard Earle had stayed over at the woman’s home a few times in the month before the incident in December 2021.

The pair had dinner, drank alcohol, consumed ‘jungle juice’, smoked marijuana and watched a movie, Crown prosecutor Beth Morrisroe said.

The woman eventually decided to go to bed, while Earle wanted to stay up for a while.

She woke about 2 am to find him touching her genitals, before he removed her underwear. She claimed she tried to stop him, but couldn’t.

“She will tell you she couldn’t get words out at this point,” Ms Morrisroe said.

Earle raped her until she said, “Wait, wait, wait”, and he stopped to ask if it was OK.

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The woman messaged Earle several weeks later, asking him questions like, “Am I the only one who has to live with the consequences of your actions?”.

During the trial’s openings, defence barrister James Sabharwal said Earle did not deny having sex with the woman, but he urged jurors to consider what his client was thinking at the time of the alleged offences.

He also questioned whether he knew she wasn’t consenting at the time.

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