A Winnipeg firefighter on trial for sexually assaulting two women over 20 years has been found not guilty in connection to one of the victims after the Crown conceded Tuesday it had not proven its case.

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Manuel Ruiz was acquitted of sexual assault, forcible confinement and procuring for the purposes of prostitution. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manuel Ruiz was acquitted of sexual assault, forcible confinement and procuring for the purposes of prostitution. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A Winnipeg firefighter on trial for sexually assaulting two women over 20 years has been found not guilty in connection to one of the victims after the Crown conceded Tuesday it had not proven its case.

"I would agree with what the Crown suggests, that (the charges) have not been proven," said Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey before acquitting Manuel Ruiz, 54, of one count each of sexual assault, forcible confinement and procuring for the purposes of prostitution.

The 35-year-old woman who was the focus of those charges testified last spring that she and Ruiz had been dating a short time when he allegedly pushed her to have sex with three men against her will.

The woman alleged she lived with Ruiz for a few months in 2006, during which time he would lock her alone in their bedroom for up to eight hours. She claimed in 2009, after giving him a massage at his home, he sexually assaulted her.

Ruiz denied the charges, telling court the two only lived together three weeks and had sex no more than three or four times.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the Crown and defence made their closing arguments in the case of the remaining alleged victim, a 46-year-old woman who testified she met Ruiz when she was 12 and they were both taking classes at a taekwondo studio.

At trial, the woman alleged Ruiz would frequently rub up against her as she squeezed through a doorway on her way to the change room.

Former firefighter Manuel Ruiz arrives at the Law Courts in June for the beginning of his trial. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Former firefighter Manuel Ruiz arrives at the Law Courts in June for the beginning of his trial. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The woman testified they maintained a friendship throughout her teen years and into her 20s. She told court when she was 25, Ruiz sexually assaulted her in her apartment and continued to have sex with her against her will on other occasions at his home and martial arts studio.

Ruiz testified he didn’t remember meeting the woman before 1997 or 1998 when she jogged past a Sherbrook Street patio where he had been sharing drinks with some of his jiu-jitsu students.

Over time, the two became friends, Ruiz said, with the woman making the first sexual overture during a visit to her apartment for tea in 2002.

Ruiz said they stopped short of sex, with him telling the woman he had to go.

Some days later, the woman invited Ruiz to a Grosvenor Avenue bed and breakfast where she was working and the two had sex, Ruiz said.

Ruiz testified the woman provided him with a booking schedule at the bed and breakfast so he would know when it was safe to go over for sex.

The woman denied having consensual sex with Ruiz, telling court he threatened to burn her mother’s house down and poison her dogs if she did not comply with his sexual demands.

The woman alleged Ruiz forced her to lodge his teenage son at the bed and breakfast for a number of weeks. When, on her boss’s order, she kicked the boy out, Ruiz went to the bed and breakfast and broke down the door with a shovel, the woman said.

The woman ran out the back way and called her uncle for help. When they returned to the building with police, they found Ruiz sitting on the couch, calmly sipping tea, the woman said.

Ruiz told court he had asked if his son could stay at the bed and breakfast and he agreed to pay her $1,500 for a month’s rent.

Ruiz admitted he was angry at the woman for kicking his son out of the bed and breakfast, but denied forcing his way inside.

Ruiz suggested the incident was prompted by his reaction a week earlier, when at a Corydon Avenue restaurant, the woman broached the topic of marriage.

"I laughed and she started crying and ran out of the restaurant," he said. "I thought it was just friends with benefits. It was never formalized. It was never anything else."

Defence lawyer Matt Gould argued Tuesday the alleged victim had only her word to say Ruiz had assaulted her, with no other evidence to corroborate her claims.

"Think of all the ammunition that should be available over 15 years," Gould said, noting there was no evidence before the court from other witnesses that the two had even had a conversation before 1998. "Think of all the opportunities to verify, confirm or bolster your allegations."

"Historical sexual assaults are rarely corroborated, due to the passage of time," Crown attorney Michelle Bright countered.

"This doesn’t mean the (victim’s) evidence isn’t reliable or credible," Bright said. "These are attempts by the accused to deflect from the real issues."

The judge will render her verdict at a later date.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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