Cindy Lynn Noel of Moncton was found not guilty Wednesday of possessing child pornography.

Judge Ronald LeBlanc said there was reasonable doubt the 26-year-woman possessed child pornography between Feb. 23, 2016, and June 9, 2016.  

Noel pleaded not guilty last April after being charged in February. 

Noel held hands with Natalie Chiasson Frigault, a friend who testified on her behalf, while the verdict was read. She cried when the judge said she was not guilty.

Noel declined to comment as she left the courthouse.

Honest testimony

LeBlanc said while delivering his verdict Noel's testimony was "straightforward, honest and reliable" and it raised reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is with the Crown, he said, and the defendant is not required to prove their innocence.

During the three-day trial, Noel suggested the 20 images containing child pornography found on her laptop and cellphone belonged to a male friend who periodically stayed with her at the time.

Crown prosecutor Maurice Blanchard attempted to poke holes in Noel's theory during closing arguments.

"There is much said, but little evidence of him," Blanchard said.

As well, he said, no electronic evidence was presented that would put the male friend in Noel's residence in early 2016, the prosecutor said.

Defence lawyer Martin Goguen argued there was forensic evidence the male friend exists and tried to cast Noel as "more of a victim," who was naive and trusting. 

Noel's theory

Noel was charged about eight months after a nationwide investigation in exploitation led police in Ottawa to alert New Brunswick RCMP to images of child sexual abuse being made available online.

The RCMP executed a search warrant at a Main Street apartment on June 9, 2016, and seized electronic items before arresting Noel, who was later released on conditions.

Cindy Lynn Noel

Noel, left, was arrested in February after electronic items containing child pornography were seized from her apartment. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

Const. Sylvette Hebert, a member of the RCMP's Internet Child Exploitation Unit, told the court Tuesday that the 20 pornographic images were found on Noel's laptop and cellphone during the search.

Hebert said the first tip to police came on Feb. 23, 2016, when Noel is alleged to have tried to email three images through a Hotmail account. The second tip came in March through Skype.

Suggests a friend was culprit

Noel said a male friend she met in northern New Brunswick about 10 years ago may be the culprit.

After reconnecting with the man years later, Noel said, she allowed the man to stay with her off and on from January 2016 until mid-March of that year before he told her he was leaving town.

Noel said they last spoke in early April 2016.

There were no passwords protecting her devices, Noel said, and she had no idea the pornography was on them until police showed the pictures to her.

Closing arguments

On Wednesday, Blanchard noted in his cross-examination of Noel that the only electronic chat police could find between her and the male friend occurred in 2013. When asked if anyone saw this man at her apartment when he stayed there, Noel said no.

Chiasson Frigault testified Tuesday that she'd met the man and he messaged her in 2015 but she couldn't produce evidence.  

The Crown said police were unable to locate the man. Blanchard said in his closing that he doesn't doubt the male friend exists, but he said there's no electronic evidence putting the man at Noel's home during the time in question.

The defence argued Noel was a victim of identity theft or fraud. 

Goguen said Noel didn't put the images on the devices and she had no knowledge of what was happening with her devices.  

He said also said Noel acted normally when confronted by police. The court heard she was upset and unclear about what was going on when the RCMP arrived to search the apartment.

LeBlanc said in his ruling he accepts the male friend was in and out of the apartment and found the situation plausible. 

With files from Kate Letterick