NAPANEE, Ont. - The sexual exploitation trial of David Frost exposed a seedy side of hockey culture in which women are merely objects of gratification for young men who consider group sex normal, a judge said Friday in finding the former hockey coach not guilty.
While prosecutors had alleged Frost exercised an alarming level of control over his players and participated in sex acts with them and their young girlfriends, the defence argued that group sex is rampant in the hockey world - but Frost never took part.
"A significant amount of evidence in this case exposed a dark and very unhealthy side of hockey," Ontario Court Justice Geoff Griffin said in acquitting Frost of four counts of sexual exploitation.
It's a culture of "misogyny" that's "extremely offensive and must be denounced," he added.
The charges related to Frost's tenure as coach of the junior A Quinte Hawks team in eastern Ontario in 1996 and 1997. Two of the counts of sexual exploitation alleged Frost directly or indirectly sexually touched two teenage players, while the other two alleged Frost directed the players to sexually touch their girlfriends.
Key witness testimony on both sides was unreliable and rife with inconsistencies, said Griffin, who added that a minor witness was the only completely credible one.
"I do not determine which version of the evidence is true," he said. The task, he added, was to be satisfied that the defence raised a reasonable doubt.
During the trial, two women, now 28, testified that they participated in threesomes with Frost and their hockey player boyfriends.
On Friday, Griffin said he was concerned that testimony was possibly "tainted by collusion."
The mother of one of the women said she hopes the trial teaches parents to be wary of the trust they put in coaches who work with their children.
The woman said her daughter has "moved on."
"She's a strong woman. She's a brave woman."
The father of former NHL player Mike Danton, who is currently in prison in the U.S. for a failed murder-for-hire plot that allegedly targeted Frost, expressed anger at the verdict.
"I'm not happy about the verdict at all - it's disgusting," said Steve Jefferson, who is estranged from Danton.
It was difficult for him to sit through the testimony, in particular listening to allegations "about him touching the boys and having them touch him," Jefferson said.
He and his wife, who attended almost every day of the trial, have been writing regularly to their son in prison, but their letters have all been torn up and sent back, Jefferson added.
Danton was one of the players under Frost's wing for many years, including time as a Quinte Hawk.
The women dated two of the players during that time, when all four were 16 years old. They testified that Frost exerted such power over his players that he could control their sexual behaviour and would compel them to engage in three-way sex with him and their girlfriends.
The former players testified that such allegations were "ridiculous" and nothing of the sort ever happened.
They testified for the defence, which is highly unusual for alleged victims. One told court during the trial that group sex is common among hockey players and that following his years as a Quinte Hawk he had sexual encounters involving one girl and as many as five or six guys.
"It's like a bonding thing with your friends or teammates," he said.
The men cannot be named and The Canadian Press is also not identifying the two women who testified about having sex with players and Frost, when they were juveniles, though the women are not part of the same publication ban.
Crown attorney Sandy Tse alleged that Frost was a cult-like leader of his inner circle of five players who dangled the promise of an NHL career in front of them as a way to keep them under his control.
Frost was a mentor to those men from a young and impressionable age and the two men who testified would have a "high degree of loyalty" to Frost, Griffin said, adding that acknowledging he coerced them into sex acts would be a "significant betrayal."
However, he said, "I am not prepared ... to conclude that the level of control was as extreme and all-pervasive as the Crown would have me believe."
Their testimony does not lead one to think they are "brainwashed followers of Mr. Frost," Griffin added.
Frost's lawyer, Marie Henein, said the judge's verdict was fair.
"I think he was very even-handed and applied a great deal of common sense to what the facts really were, rather than innuendo and things that are heard outside of a courtroom," she said.
As for Frost, it's been an exhausting and draining process that has put his future on hold, Henein said.
"It doesn't only capture your life it captures in a very significant way the lives of your family. There's a lot of people collateral to this in Mr. Frost's life that have also gone through this trial with him, his wife and his children, and it's been very, very difficult."