Third teen pleads not guilty in Lethbridge high school football sex assault case

Third teen pleads not guilty

A third member of an Alberta high school football team accused of sexually assaulting a teammate has pleaded not guilty to charges.

The accused boys, who are 16 and 17, are charged with sexual assault with a weapon, assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. Because of their ages, they cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Court heard that two days will be set for a trial for the three accused.

At a previous court appearance two weeks ago, a lawyer for one of the boys indicated talks were underway to resolve his charges. But on Wednesday, a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

The Crown had asked for a charge against a fourth accused to be downgraded from assault with a weapon to assault. The change would make it a summary offence, which is considered less serious than an indictable offence.

That teen has been referred to a diversion program.

His lawyer, Miranda Hlady, told court her client is on "a different path than the other matters."

"He was referred to extrajudicial sanctions Feb. 14. We received confirmation that information was provided to the team, I think two days ago," she said.

The outside-of-court sanctions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act aim to hold a young person accountable without proceeding through the formal court process.

The measures are presumed to be adequate for a first-time, non-violent offender. A young person must accept responsibility for the offending behaviour before an extrajudicial sanction can be imposed, but the admission is not considered the same as a guilty plea.

The Crown  previously indicated it would proceed by indictment, signaling the seriousness of the charges and sending the matter to the Court of King’s Bench.

Police have said a 16-year-old boy was assaulted in a locker room of a Lethbridge school after regular hours on Oct. 3.

Investigators served a search warrant at the school and seized a weapon. They did not give details about the weapon and have said the case did not involve hazing.

After charges were laid, the school's football program was suspended then cancelled for the rest of the season by the Lethbridge School Division.

An update on the diversion program and a pretrial conference for the fourth accused is scheduled for March 27.

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