A former Northland church leader accused of using his trusted position to prey on vulnerable young girls is expected to learn his fate today.
Brian Sanders, 68, is defending 38 charges, including counts of rape and indecent assault, allegedly committed against 13 complainants at Doubtless Bay and Bream Bay between 1998 and 2013. He faces 15 charges of indecent assault on a child aged between 12 and 16, one of indecent assault, three of rape, 15 of sexual conduct with a child under 12, two of sexual conduct with a young person under 16 and two of unlawful sexual connection.
The alleged offending happened when Sanders was president of the Bream Bay branch of the Latter Day Saints Church and when he helped his wife run an after-school programme in the Far North. The jury retired to consider their verdicts at 3.30pm yesterday after Judge Duncan Harvey summed up the case in the Whangarei District Court.
In her closing address to the jury on Wednesday, Crown prosecutor Bernadette O'Connor said Sanders lived a double life.
"The respected life of a church leader and president of a youth group but underneath that respectful veneer he preyed upon, groomed, and exploited disadvantaged and innocent girls for his sexual gratification.
"For 15 years he did that and he offered and supplied them things they couldn't or wouldn't get," she said, referring to allegations that he exchanged gifts such as pet rabbits, cigarettes, chocolates, clothing and money in exchange for his sexual gratification and their silence.
Sanders, she said, wanted the jury to believe an implausible coincidence that 13 girls chose to make serious allegations against him. Ms O'Connor urged the jury to look at the totality of the evidence which proved Sanders constantly and opportunistically abused the complainants.
Defence lawyer Chris Muston said if the jury was unsure about Sanders' guilt, he was entitled to the benefit of the doubt. He said there were no diaries that detailed the allegations made by the complainants and no inappropriate items were recovered from Sanders by police.
Mr Muston highlighted to the jury occasions where adults saw Sanders tickling some of the complainants but they did not find anything sinister or inappropriate in his actions.
In his summing up, Judge Harvey told the jury to come to their verdicts solely on the evidence before the court and to decide the case in a calm and dispassionate manner.
He explained questions asked of witnesses and submissions made by lawyers were not evidence.
The fact Sanders gave evidence and called his wife as a witness on his behalf did not change the onus of proving the charge from the Crown to the defence, he said.