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Mehari maintains innocence in sexual assault sentencing submission – Regina Leader

After dismissing his second lawyer since being convicted of sexual assault, Awet Mehari was forced to represent himself during sentencing submissions in Regina’s Court of Queen’s Bench on Tuesday.

On the day in March originally set for submissions, Mehari dismissed Saskatoon lawyer Ian Wagner, who had represented him since the beginning of the court proceedings. Justice Janet McMurtry then granted Mehari’s request for more time to get a new lawyer.

In court on Tuesday, Legal Aid lawyer Thomas Hynes withdrew for “ethical reasons.” Due to solicitor-client privacy, the judge could not inquire further as to the reason.

Mehari, longtime manager for a Regina rapper, requested an additional 30 days to retain another private lawyer. But McMurtry sided with Crown prosecutor Adam Breker, who successfully argued in favour of proceeding with submissions.

With the Crown seeking a prison term and Mehari still professing his innocence, McMurtry reserved her decision on sentencing to Monday afternoon

Following a two-day trial in January, McMurtry found Mehari, 29, had sex with a sleeping woman who was incapable of consenting. Alexis Kolody, now 20, told court she awoke to Mehari raping her at an afterparty in September 2017. Mehari maintained during testimony that any sexual activity was consensual. He has been in custody since Jan. 30.

At Kolody’s request, the court lifted the usual publication ban on her identity, as a sexual assault victim.

In her victim impact statement, she spoke to a hopeful future as she pursued an education in policing. She had loving and supportive relationships, spent lots of time with family and often went out with friends. Her life changed on Sept. 30, 2017. She recalled feeling “embarrassed, ashamed and guilty” as she did a rape kit examination and had her clothes taken as evidence.

Dabbing her eyes with a tissue, Kolody described a loss of identity.

“When I see an old photo of myself, I start to cry because I’m longing for the past and question who and where I would have been if this did not happen,” Kolody said.

Sexual trauma makes you feel forever altered and I am in search of my survivor identity.”

Saying he was unprepared to represent himself, Mehari submitted a stack of good character letters in an envelope. Breker noted all the letters reference Mehari being falsely accused or wrongly convicted.

Mehari, answering McMurtry’s questions, told court he owns a clothing company, record label and entertainment company started in 2006. Ever since, he’s been booking artists from across North America to perform in Saskatchewan. He said his company has received over $70,000 in grant funding from Creative Saskatchewan to help develop his record label. He has no history of addictions.

With his supporters filling the court gallery, Mehari continued to plead his innocence.

“This has been a shock to everybody. This is nothing that anybody would have ever expected to hear that I was ever accused of, let alone convicted of,” he said.

“I wish there was a better job done in regards to my defence and more steps taken forward to find out who was actually lying throughout the proceeding.”

The Crown argued for a prison sentence between three-and-a-half to four years, as well as a mandatory DNA order and 20-year sex offender registry order.

As for aggravating factors, Breker cited the fact the victim was asleep at the time of the assault and that Mehari has not expressed remorse.

“In fact, (he) suggested this entire ordeal was a pre-orchestrated set-up in an effort to extort money from him,” Breker said.