Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man, 78, exposed himself to child

Latest in long string of sex crimes

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Experts often theorize the risks repeat sex offenders pose tend to wane as they age.

William Rupert Astle is proving that wrong.

Even though he's pushing 80, Astle is currently facing his longest-ever stint behind bars.

Manitoba prosecutors want a four-year prison term for Astle, who admitted Friday he exposed himself to a nine-year-old girl as she innocently perused an aisle of toys at a Walmart on Feb. 1.

Astle, 78, was on probation at the time and barred from having any contact with children because of his troubling history of sexual crimes against them.

The girl's caregiver let her go to visit the toy section while they shopped at the Walmart on Regent Avenue, court heard.

Soon after she got there, Astle came into the aisle, his groin covered by a coat folded over his arm.

Surveillance video showed the girl soon after ran from the area. She hid elsewhere in the store for a time and then sought help. The distraught girl told police the stranger was "jumping up and down while staring at her...wiggling his weenie," Crown prosecutor Jennifer Mann told court.

"She was scared to death when she saw him," said Mann.

Astle was promptly arrested by Winnipeg police officers at the store.

He told police he was just passing through the toy section on his way to another -- but the camera footage showed otherwise, Mann said.

He'd actually been "lurking" in the toy-aisle area minutes before and had stopped near another girl who had been beckoned away by a woman, said Mann.

"He knew he was going to come into contact with children," Mann said. There was no real evidence Astle was at the store to shop as he had no basket or cart, Mann said.

Astle ultimately admitted wrongdoing to investigators, telling them "he would have liked the victim to keep on staring," said Mann.

The Crown detailed for Judge Dale Harvey the lengthy history of Astle's sexual offending -- it includes convictions for indecent assault, sexual interference, and several for indecent acts.

Mann said several judges since 2006 have commented on the risk Astle poses to the public.

She also noted how police and probation officers often have him under surveillance when he's free in the community.

Astle is also one of a rare handful of provincial sex offenders police warn the public about upon his release from jail.

At a 2012 sentencing hearing, Judge Ray Wyant dubbed Astle an "exceptional, extreme danger to the public, especially for children."

Defence lawyer Jennifer Neufeld painted Astle's crime at the Walmart as "impulsive" and "unsophisticated," not the planned and deliberate act prosecutors suggest.

Astle is aware he's being watched and that stores have cameras and people around, Neufeld said.

Neufeld pushed for a two-year sentence, saying the Crown's request for double that amount didn't fit the crime.

Yes, Astle's risk and the future protection of the public are valid concerns, however, he can't be held to account for things he hasn't done, said Neufeld.

"He's not being punished for potential future crimes," she said.

Harvey will decide the case July 17.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 A16

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