Fate of Toronto man accused of imprisoning couple, taking baby now rests with judge

TORONTO — The fate of a Toronto man accused of imprisoning a struggling couple in his home, participating in their abuse and forcing them to give up their baby so he could raise it as his own now rests with an Ontario judge.

Gary Willett is charged with assault, abduction, forcible confinement, failing to provide the necessaries of life and theft in a saga that spans more than two decades. He has pleaded not guilty.

His wife, Maria Willett, is facing similar charges but will be tried separately after a psychological assessment recently determined she was fit to stand trial. She has also pleaded not guilty.

At the heart of the case is the relationship between the Willetts and Tim Goldring and Barbara Bennett, a homeless couple they took in after finding Goldring searching for food in a dumpster in the 1980s.

Prosecutors allege the Willetts became physically and verbally abusive over time, keeping the pair captive, taking their disability cheques and their first-born son, who grew up thinking the Willetts were his biological parents.

Court documents say Bennett left the home four years after giving birth, but Goldring remained until 2012, when his now-grown son — who had recently been kicked out — and two others took him from the family home.

“Tim was, for all intents and purposes a personal servant to Gary and Maria Willett,” Crown attorney Jennifer Strasberg wrote in her closing submissions.

“He was, in a lot of ways, like a prisoner in the home. He had no money, had no control over his surroundings, and had to do what he was told by Gary and Maria Willett. If he did not, he was punished,” she said.

“He was beaten on a regular basis. He was hit in the head by Gary Willett on numerous occasions. He was bleeding from his head, he had nosebleeds, and he had headaches. He was denied food to the point that he would sometimes hide frozen lunch meat or eat dog food.”

The defence, meanwhile, argues Goldring and Bennett stayed in the home willingly, handed over their cheques to cover living expenses and asked the Willetts to take their son because they didn’t feel equipped to raise a child.

Defence lawyer Sam Goldstein alleges the Willetts’ children, including Goldring and Bennett’s biological child, are in collusion and have tainted the couple’s memories.

“This case is about a group of ungrateful children trying to get back at their parents for perceived childhood wrongs by taking advantage of an illiterate, poorly educated, and impressionable Tim Goldrick, and convincing him that all the years he had shared accommodations with Gary Willett he had in fact been treated as a slave,” Goldstein wrote in his submissions.

He also alleged that Bennett agreed to hand her baby to the Willetts and later changed her story because it was easier than admitting she had given up her child.

The Willetts didn’t go through official adoption channels like they did for several other children because they believed it would be more expedient, Goldstein said. In hindsight, however, his client realizes that was a mistake, he said.

Bennett testified that when she went into labour, the Willetts took her to hospital while Goldring stayed behind, court documents show. Bennett told the court Maria Willett made her use her ID at the hospital and she complied because she feared getting hit, the documents show.

Bennett testified the Willetts named the infant, and when they all returned home, the baby lived with the Willetts.

Goldring testified that neither Bennett nor the Willetts discussed the matter with him, and that he had no choice but to go along, documents show.

A decision in the case is expected in the next few weeks.