'Judicial system failed us'

"The judicial system has failed us," a sexual assault victim said Saturday. 

The woman, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, flew to Kelowna to testify in a sexual assault trial.

On Aug. 23, 2016, she and a friend took a nap in their living room on Highland Road. They woke to find a stranger in their bed, touching their legs and genitals. When they pulled the covers back, they found a man smiling back at them.

Police arrested a suspect nearby, wearing clothes that matched the victims’ description of the attacker.

On Friday, the victim received an email at 3:45 p.m. saying 39-year-old Shea Gardecki had been found not guilty.

For the past year and a half, the woman said her life has been disrupted by the assault.

“Just complete disbelief … because in my mind it is not even a question of whether he is guilty or not. It never was,” she said. “It was how much time he was going to get or what kind of penalty; and it’s also shocking he didn’t even get a break and enter charge.”

A day after deliberations began, the 12-person jury unanimously found Gardecki not guilty of two counts of sexual assault and one count of breaking and entering.

The victim, in her twenties, said the entire process was nerve wracking because she didn’t want to have to see the accused.

“He was sitting so close to each of us,” she said. “That in itself … I didn’t want him right there. It brought up a lot of feelings I tried to move on from. It’s very disturbing.”

Gardecki called no evidence in his defence.

Gardecki's friend, Doug Leewes, testified in court that he had invited Gardecki over on the afternoon of Aug. 23 to help him detail a car he was trying to sell.

Leewes said Gardecki left his house about 6:30 p.m. to get more beer, and returned 30 to 45 minutes later, without any. He never explained where he had been.

In a statement to police shortly after his arrest, Gardecki said: “Girls can say anything they want ... they're like that, you know, they freak out about anything. If they don't like somebody, they may do that, right? They may say something more intense than whatever is even happening.”

Gardecki remained active on the online dating site Plenty of Fish while he awaited trial, and two women reported negative experiences after meeting him through the site. 

The victim said she wanted to encourage other women to feel empowered to stand up against predators, but now feels like it was all a waste.

“We were forced to talk about every little detail and then told it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t enough to prove he did it,” she said. “It would have been better if we had just not even done anything.”

All she was hoping for was peace of mind.

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