SINGAPORE, Sept 16 — In acquitting an American man of molesting a woman who sat beside him on a Singapore Airlines flight last year, a district judge found the alleged victim to be a “completely unreliable witness” who came up with an “implausible” story.
Roberto Eduardo De Vido, 56, was accused of touching the 25-year-old woman’s left thigh and groin. They were en route from Tokyo to Singapore on June 24 last year.
Yesterday, Senior District Judge Bala Reddy cleared the man of the charge, saying the prosecution had not proven the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt.
De Vido — represented by Wendell Wong, Benedict Eoon and Ms Evelyn Tan from law firm Drew & Napier — maintained during the six-day trial that he had been asleep the whole time.
The alleged victim cannot be named due to a court order to protect her identity.
She had testified that on the flight, De Vido touched her twice. The two did not know each other from before and had been talking about their travel plans when he moved from his assigned aisle seat to sit beside her.
She claimed that after the cabin lights were turned off, he then touched her left thigh slightly above her knee, before moving his hand slowly to her groin in a “crawling” motion.
Prosecutors argued that De Vido’s “purposeful and controlled movement” showed he was awake and had deliberately touched her underneath a blanket.
De Vido testified that they stopped talking when he went to sleep. When the plane landed, she declined his offer to help with removing her bag from an overhead compartment and he then disembarked.
‘Serious doubts’ in her testimony
In his brief grounds of decision, Senior District Judge Reddy found “serious doubts” in the woman’s testimony “besides the weaknesses in the manner in which this case was investigated”.
“On the whole, I found (her) evidence highly unsatisfactory and, in some aspects, incredulous. Having carefully observed her giving evidence and also her demonstrations I was left in no doubt that she is a completely unreliable witness on whose sole testimony a conviction for a sexual offence cannot be sustained.”
The way De Vido allegedly molested her was extremely awkward and it was implausible that he would have done so, he added.
The woman had acknowledged it was a “very unusual position” but maintained her story.
Her version of events in court was also “critically different” from what she had said in a police statement.
The judge recognised that there is no prescribed way that sexual assault victims are expected to act, but the woman did not try to draw any attention to what was happening to her.
“She could offer no credible answer to why she had not alerted a crew member, or simply got out of her seat and freed herself of the torment.
“But she would want the court to believe that she was prepared to bear with this, although she explained that she ‘froze’ and was ‘at a loss’ as to what to do,” the judge said.
For a frequent flyer not to have at least sought the attention of a steward was “entirely unbelievable”, he added.
She had called a friend, who was a police officer, after landing in Singapore but did not give him any details.
In contrast, Senior District Judge Reddy said that he found De Vido’s version of events to be the truth.
He had given the woman his contact details before falling asleep, which “made no sense” if he was preparing to molest her later, the judge added.
Separately, the first information report made with the police did not disclose any criminal offence, with no mention that she was touched inappropriately.
If convicted of molestation, with the Tokyo Convention Act, the accused could have been jailed up to two years or fined or caned, or received any combination of the three. Under the Tokyo Convention Act, if a crime takes place on a Singapore-controlled aircraft flying outside of the country, the accused can be charged for the offence under Singapore laws. — TODAY