Jury finds former Canucks forward Jake Virtanen not guilty of sexual assault

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VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen says he's "incredibly relieved" that a jury has found him not guilty of sexual assault.

Virtanen wept openly when the verdict was read in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

He clutched his head in his hands and was comforted by defence lawyers while several friends and family, seated in the front row of the courtroom, whispered "yes!"

"I am glad the truth has come to light," Virtanen said in a statement. "I am looking forward to resuming my career as an NHL player. For my whole life I have dreamed about playing the sport I love, in the best league in the world.

"I want to thank my family, my friends, and my supporters, the people who stood behind me through these most difficult times.”

Virtanen was charged in January with sexual assault in connection with an incident in a downtown Vancouver hotel room in September 2017.

He told the court last week that the woman who accused him of assault was an "enthusiastic participant" in the encounter.

The 25-year-old Virtanen, from Abbotsford, B.C., said they mutually began kissing and touching each other while lying in bed and helped each other take their clothes off before having sex.

The 23-year-old woman, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, testified that she repeatedly said "no" and told Virtanen that she did not want to have sex with him before he pinned her to the hotel bed with his body weight.

The court heard Virtanen and the woman met at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. They exchanged numbers and kept in touch via text and direct messages on Instagram.

The woman was 18 years old when she drove to Vancouver that September to visit family and friends, and do a photo shoot. She and Virtanen, then 21, made plans to meet. He picked her up from her friend's house and took her to his hotel room.

The woman testified that she had a "sinking feeling'' in her stomach when they arrived, but she trusted Virtanen, so she went up to his room.

The woman did not go to police at the time.

In April 2021, she posted her story to an Instagram page for survivors of sexual assault, then spoke with a reporter from Glacier Media for a newspaper story, naming Virtanen as the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her, and launched a civil lawsuit against him.

Virtanen was a right-winger for the Canucks when the allegations surfaced in May 2021. The team placed him on leave and bought out his contract the following month.

He last played in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.

The Crown and defence lawyers finished their closing arguments on Monday, focusing on the reliability of testimony given by Virtanen and the woman.

Defence lawyer Brock Martland told the jury the woman's testimony was "riddled" with inconsistencies, some minor and some "fundamental," and said she was not a trustworthy witness.

Crown counsel Alan Ip told the jury the woman had a "firm" memory of the critical details of the alleged assault and was "unshaken on major and important points in her testimony."

The 12-person jury began deliberating Monday afternoon following five days of testimony and delivered their verdict Tuesday morning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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