Ex-Argo acquitted

SAM PAZZANO, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

A judge exonerated ex-Argo lineman Bernard "Bennie" Williams yesterday, saying he was a victim of "invented" allegations that he raped the intoxicated friend of a cheerleader.

Justice John Macdonald acquitted the 36-year-old former offensive lineman of the August 2006 incident, praising him as an "impressive witness" while saying the complainant's intoxicated state led her to invent the incident.

The complainant -- who cannot be identified -- also omitted details such as inviting Argo players to touch her breasts and smoking marijuana, Macdonald said.

She also "imagined" some bar patron asking her if her ample breasts were real, when no other witnesses confirmed this event. But the judge said these details merely undermine her general credibility and reliability as a witness.

Macdonald said the complainant -- who awoke after a night of extreme intoxication -- with Williams placing her into a bed "didn't know what was going on.

DOUBTFUL RELIABILITY

"Her thoughts were formed in a semiconscious state, which are of very doubtful reliability," Macdonald said. He contrasted the frailties in the complainant's evidence with Williams' clear denials that he "did nothing wrong."

Williams, Argo teammate Jonathan Brown, cheerleader Ashley Bonar and her friend, who failed at the cheerleading tryouts, went to Bonar's Etobicoke home to continue partying after meeting at a club.

The complainant, who had more than 20 ounces of alcohol and smoked two marijuana cigarettes, became ill and stayed in the bathroom. Brown had left.

Williams and Bonar had retired to bed. Williams then discovered the drunken complainant "half on the bed and half on the floor" after he heard a "thump" while he was in the neighbouring bathroom.

"He covered her with a blanket as she was naked from the waist down and lifted her on to the bed. Then she yelled abuse at Mr. Williams," the judge said.

"These are the cases that my wife tries at home," said an obviously relieved Williams, whose wife of seven years, Lee Ann, is a district attorney in Georgia.

"There are always frivolous charges ... you have to trust in the legal system and hope it works out," Williams told reporters afterwards. "I had to explain the details of this to my wife.

"People who know me know this is not in my character. Like me, they were just waiting for this to go away.

ENDED CAREER

"It ended my playing career, although the Argos' management, president Keith Pelley and vice-president James Cook, believed in me. Nobody is going to pick up a veteran free agent with this hanging over his head," said Williams, who said he still has an enduring affection for Toronto and the Argos despite the ordeal.

Williams' lawyer, John Struthers, credited his client's honest and unshaken testimony for the acquittal but noted he suffered lost career opportunities for almost three years, despite "the presumption of innocence."


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