Ghomeshi trial gets underway

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Jian Ghomeshi is escorted by police out of court past members of the media in Toronto in this file photo.Ghomeshi's trial got underway today. 

TORONTO - Former radio star Jian Ghomeshi came across as a humble, charming and chivalrous gentleman who, without warning, would turn violent, his sexual assault trial heard Monday.

The first witness to testify was a woman who described how Ghomeshi had shocked her by going from sweet and polite to pulling her hair so hard, it hurt.

“It felt almost like a rage that wasn't there the second before he did it,” said the woman, who can't be identified.

“It was very confusing.”

The incident, in December 2002, occurred as they sat in his yellow VW Beetle near the CBC building in Toronto, she told court.

The woman, who had met Ghomeshi at a Christmas party where she was working as a server, said he had invited her to a show taping, after which they went for a drink.

Ghomeshi had been flirtatious, but she had no qualms accepting a ride with him back to her nearby car, saying she felt “perfectly safe.”

“I remember thinking: he's funny, he's intelligent, he opens doors, he's a perfect gentleman.”

After the hair-grabbing, he seemed to “switch back” to the charming guy of earlier, she said, leaving her wondering if he simply didn't know his own strength.

About a month later, she agreed to go with him to his house.

They were standing up kissing when he went behind her, grabbed her hair, and yanked her down to her knees.

“At the same time, he's punching me in the head. Multiple times. I'm terrified. Then I start to cry,” she testified.

“You should go now, I'll call you a cab,” she said Ghomeshi told her. “He threw me out like trash.”

Earlier, a clean-shaven Ghomeshi, 48, wearing a black coat, white shirt and black tie, worked his way through a throng of media as he entered the downtown Toronto courthouse.

The former host of CBC Radio's popular culture show “Q” has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He is being tried by judge alone.

Only one of the three complainants in the case can be identified publicly, actress Lucy DeCoutere, best known for her role in the TV series “Trailer Park Boys.”

“To state the obvious, this trial has attracted an extraordinary amount of media attention,” Ontario court Judge William Horkins said as proceedings got underway with a discussion about allowing media access to exhibits tendered as evidence.

Lawyers for the complainants wanted clarity on how their client's privacy rights would be respected before sensitive materials such as photographs, video or audio recordings, would be “disseminated to the whole world.”

Gillian Hnatiw, DeCoutere's lawyer, said the proceedings involved issues that were “deeply personal in nature.”

Ghomeshi's lead defence lawyer, Marie Henein, wryly noted that DeCoutere and her counsel had given “no less than 24 media interviews.”

The defence had not sought psychological or counselling records and they were “not in play,” Henein told Horkins, adding sufficient safeguards existed to protect the complainants.

“This is not the Wild West,” Henein said.

Horkins said the exhibits would, as a rule, be made available.

The Ghomeshi controversy exploded in October 2014, when the CBC fired its radio star saying it had seen “graphic evidence” he had physically injured a woman.

In court, Ghomeshi listened quietly to the proceedings and with little obvious emotion, at times lowering his head.

However, in a lengthy Facebook post in 2014, he wrote that he engaged in “rough sex” but insisted the encounters were consensual.

In addition to the charges for which he is now on trial, Ghomeshi is facing one other count of sexual assault involving a fourth complainant that will be tried separately in June.

If convicted of sexual assault, Ghomeshi faces a maximum sentence of 18 months behind bars. The choking charge, however, carries a potential life sentence.

Henein, known for her take-no-prisoners style, is being assisted by Danielle Robitaille.

Organizations: CBC Radio, VW Beetle

Geographic location: TORONTO, Wild West

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