An evangelical pastor has successfully had his conviction for groping a woman overturned on appeal after a judge said he had concerns about the woman’s evidence and her claims of having “repressed memories”.
John McMartin was earlier this year found guilty of indecently assaulting a 19-year-old woman at his Pleasure Point home in Sydney’s southwest before he this week had his conviction quashed in the NSW District Court.
The founder of the Liverpool-based Pentecostal Inspire Church was given a 16-month suspended prison sentence to be served by way of an intensive corrections order.
Mr McMartin appeared before an appeal hearing earlier this week and was successful in having his conviction overturned.
Mr McMartin has continually denied the allegations that he touched the woman’s breasts, thighs and buttocks and sucked on her earlobes.
He pleaded not guilty before a Local Court hearing and denied touching the woman in a sexual manner.
In a judgment published on Friday, District Court Judge Andrew Scotting found there were “critical inconsistencies” in the complainant’s evidence and a reasonable doubt about Mr McMartin’s guilt.
The court was told the incident occurred at Mr McMartin’s Pleasure Point home in January 2013, and several days later the then 19-year-old woman complained to a pastor before making a written complaint to the Australian Christian Churches.
The court was previously told the woman accepted his offer of a massage before, she alleged, he touched her inappropriately.
Mr McMartin’s barrister, Phillip Strickland SC, had argued the woman’s version of events had changed over several statements made over many years.
The court was told her complaint to the church was later retracted before a statement was made to the police seven years later.
Judge Scotting found there was reasonable doubt about Mr McMartin’s guilt.
He noted Mr McMartin had made consistent denials, had participated in a formal police interview and gave evidence to the court when he was under no obligation to do so.
He also took into account his “good character” given he was 67 years old, had no prior convictions and had “lived a life of faith and service to others”.
Judge Scotting also said Mr McMartin was at a “forensic disadvantage” because of the delay in making the complaint and text messages and phone records, which Mr McMartin said supported his version of events, were lost.
The court was also told the woman stated that she had “repressed” some memories of the alleged incident that she later recalled.
“The complainant’s evidence about trying to forget what happened and having ‘repressed memories’ causes me some concerns about her evidence,” Judge Scotting said.
“I am not sure if her evidence was a recollection of the events of the night or a reconstruction of them through discussions with others.”
Mr Strickland argued that magistrate Peter Thompson was wrong to make negative findings about Mr McMartin’s demeanour, including talking over lawyers and flossing his teeth during the hearing.
“The magistrate reasoned that the appellant’s conduct in the body of the court was at least one of the matters that adversely impacted his credit as a witness,” Judge Scotting said.
Mr Strickland had argued that he was not aware that Mr Thompson was set to make adverse findings about Mr McMartin’s credit based on his behaviour and demeanour in court and was not afforded an opportunity to make submissions about the matter.
Judge Scotting also found there were inconsistencies in the woman’s evidence, in particular her claim that Mr McMartin called her the following morning to remonstrate with her that was incompatible with notes made by another pastor.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is sufficient doubt about the appellant’s guilt … which means that the appellant must be acquitted,” Judge Scotting found.