The jury set to decide whether to convict former principal Malka Leifer on allegations of sexual abuse has been told her legal team has a simple defence: “We deny they are telling the truth.”
Ms Leifer‘s defence team has called on the jury to find their client not guilty, arguing the evidence against their client does not remove reasonable doubt.
“The defence submits you cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt these alleged acts took place,” Judge Mark Gamble told jurors on Wednesday.
“The defence submits the evidence of each complainant is simply not credible or reliable and ought not be relied on by you.”
Ms Leifer, 56, is facing trial in the County Court of Victoria over allegations she sexually abused Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper while principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne’s southeast.
She has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of rape, 10 counts of indecent assault, three counts of indecent act with a child, and three counts of sexual penetration of a 16 or 17-year-old child.
A jury has been told that Malka Leifer wielded a ‘great deal of respect’ in the Hasidic community. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Paul Tyquin
The trial, which has run more than seven weeks, has heard evidence from the three sisters, school staff, police investigators and psychologists or psychiatrists.
The case against Ms Leifer rests on the testimony of her three alleged victims, who for two weeks gave evidence and were cross-examined in a closed court.
The charges against Ms Leifer relate to alleged offending against Ms Meyer in 2003 and mid to late 2006, Ms Erlich in early 2004 and mid 2006 and Ms Sapper in late 2006 and late 2007.
In his closing remarks, Crown prosecutor Justin Lewis told the jury that relying on the testimony of the alleged victims was not uncommon in sexual abuse cases where offending happens “behind closed doors and away from prying eyes”.
“When you can see the whole picture, you can see these complainants were essentially groomed by the accused,” he said.
“In each instance, she started with lesser acts so she could see the reaction and escalated over time.”
The alleged offending is said to have occurred between 2003 and 2007 while the women were students and junior religious teachers. Picture: Supplied.
Police have alleged Ms Leifer took advantage of her venerated status among the insular ultra-Orthodox community and the students’ vulnerability and ignorance about sex to offend.
Mr Lewis told the jury their evidence was “more than enough to convict” the former principal.
On Tuesday, Judge Gamble told the jury Ms Leifer’s defence had submitted the “real and only” issue they must decide is if the alleged acts occurred.
“The critical or central issue relates to whether the prosecution can prove any of the sexual acts alleged in the charges did in fact occur,” he said.
“It’s not my responsibility to decide this case … you must decide the facts on the evidence before the court.”
Earlier in the trial, defence barrister Ian Hill KC called on the jury to reject the allegations as an “imagined narrative” developed out of the women’s abusive home lives.
“This whole case depends on accepting what the complainants say happened,” he said.
“It’s on those fallible memories that you’re being asked to convict a person on serious criminal offences.”
Some of the alleged offending is said to have occurred at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick. Picture: Ian Currie
He told the court the defence had been disadvantaged by the delay to reach trial, with some of the alleged events occurring more than two decades ago.
“This has resulted in an impact on her ability to defend herself … it makes it difficult for the accused to raise any defence other than a simple denial,” he said.
“You’re asked now to accept flashbacks, dreams, nightmares and the like … are not only truthful but reliable to convict.
“We deny they are telling the truth.”
Judge Gamble is expected to call on the jury to retire and begin deliberating on a verdict this week.
The trial continues.