Defence claims soccer coach hoped to catch child predators
Former youth soccer coach Wesley Vander Leeuw is not a trained investigator. But he was simply trying to find out, in online conversations, if children were being abused.
That’s the defence his lawyer, Shawn King put forward in final arguments at the trial of the 46-year-old Vander Leeuw.
It comes after two days of testimony from the accused, who claims this all began with a Craigslist ad hoping for other adults to join him in his hot tub, have some drinks, and perhaps sexual contact.
Vander Leeuw tesitified – and his lawyer restated – that a woman who tipped off police and ignited an undercover online operation was actually concerning to Vander Leeuw. He wondered if a child was being abused, from that initial woman’s online conversations.
And defence lawyer Shawn King says once an undercover officer, who assumed the false online identity of a mother named ‘Shannon” with an 11-year-old daughter, Vander Leeuw became even more probative in his online messages and texts.
“Mr Vander Leeuw is not trained. He is not a police officer, ” King said. “He’s doing the best with what he’s got.”
King explained to the court that Vander Leeuw undertook his own investigations with regard to the texts with the undercover officer and others, to see if he could gather enough real evidence to take to police.
“He took no sexual gratification from any of these messages,” King said.
“I believe Mr. Vander Leeuw is credible and he is to be believed.”
But King also told the court his client’s conversations do end up constituting child pornography. And his ignorance about what he was writing and sending out is no defense.
“We agree that some of the material here is child pornography,” said King. “He made and possessed, all of these things were transmitted.”
But King stated that no images of child pornography were ever exchanged between Vander Leeuw and others online. Nor did police find any images or videos on his phone when he was arrested in early 2017.
In her closing submissions, Crown Prosecutor Tara Hayes summed up Vander Leeuw’s testimony at the outset.
“A backward-looking rationalization to explain his criminal conduct,” she told the court.
“Even if you accepted his version of events at face value... you have someone going online and inducing someone to commit criminal offences,” she said.
“He engaged in very protracted, very sexualized conversations about children.”
Hayes also cited case law from similar cases, to argue that the crown does not have to prove a plan to carry out a sexual assault.
“It is irrelevant that they actually intended to commit the offence,” Hayes said.
And in response to the position of the defence, that no images or videos depicting child pornography were discovered in this case after the arrest: “So what?” Hayes said.
She called much of the two day long testimony from the accused “self serving”.
“Mr. Vander Leeuw went to great lengths to have himself viewed in a particular way,” she continued. “As a protector.”
“His evidence should largely be rejected” she said.
The court has heard that when Vander Leeuw was arrested in 2017, more text conversations were discovered between the accused and an Alberta woman with children. That woman was arrested with regard to what was found and Vander Leeuw had additional charges laid against him.
On Monday, Vander Leeuw pleaded not guilty to a total of five charges. The allegations relate to communication and arrangement for a sexual purpose with someone under sixteen, as well as transmission, sale, export or distribution of child pornography.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Michael Lema has reserved his decision in the case.