01/12/2018 13:13 EST | Updated 01/13/2018 15:21 EST

Man found guilty of assaulting man, stealing from him and taking baby

TORONTO — For decades, a Toronto man took advantage of a man with limited intelligence, treating him like a servant, taking his disability cheques and eventually stealing his baby in order to raise the child as his own, an Ontario judge has found.

Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon found Gary Willett guilty Friday of assault, theft and abduction of a child in a saga that began in the late 1980s.

But he cleared Willett on charges of forcible confinement and failure to provide the necessaries of life, saying he was not convinced the man had kept Tim Goldrick captive or deprived him of care after taking him in.

Willett and his wife, Maria Willett, "simply took advantage of a man with limited intelligence and limited life skills," McMahon told a Toronto court. "They took what they wanted."

Though Gary Willett claimed he was simply trying to help Goldrick and his then-partner Barbara Bennett, he kept the couple around because "there was a definite financial incentive to do so," the judge said, noting Goldrick's disability payments brought in roughly $700 a month for more than two decades.

McMahon said he didn't believe Willett's testimony that Goldrick and Bennett gave their baby away because they felt parenthood would cramp their style, saying the Willetts would have gone through the proper adoption channels if that had been the case, as they did in adopting other children.

What's more, he said, Willett maintained he was the child's biological father when first confronted by police about the allegations.

"There would be no reason to hide a legitimate adoption that was fully consensual," he said.

Goldrick said outside court he was not happy with the verdict but did not elaborate. His now-adult son, Gary Willett Jr., also expressed dissatisfaction and said he hoped to see the elder Gary Willett behind bars.

Gary Willett's defence lawyer said his client was disappointed with some of the findings.

Goldrick and Bennett were homeless when they first met the Willetts, who then helped them find a home in their building, court heard. They did so again when they moved on multiple occasions, and eventually took the couple into their own home, court heard.

When Bennett went into labour in 1989, she went to the hospital with the Willetts, leaving Goldrick behind, court heard. She used Maria Willett's health card and the Willetts presented themselves as the child's biological parents, signing documents to that effect, court heard.

Bennett told the court that she felt pressured to give up her child and never discussed the issue with her then-partner. Goldrick, meanwhile, testified that he was never consulted and instead was told by the Willetts that he and Bennett would not make suitable parents.

Bennett left the home a few years later but Goldrick stayed. The child grew up in the same home as his father believing the Willetts were his biological parents, court heard.

Goldrick testified during trial that he was held captive and treated like a servant, threatened with being sent to an institution if he didn't comply. He also said he was made to turn over his disability cheques and most of the money he made shovelling snow for other residents.

Others testified that they saw the Willetts abuse him verbally and physically and order him to carry out errands and chores.

The judge said he believed Goldrick had been "repeatedly assaulted by being punched and kicked by Mr. Willett," but had no evidence that it led to serious injuries. Nor was he convinced that Goldrick was forced to stay with the couple until 2012, when his now-adult son and two others took him away.

The defence had argued the Willetts' children and Gary Willett Jr. had colluded against their parents and influenced Goldrick. Defence lawyer Sam Goldstein had also said Bennett agreed to let the Willetts take her baby and later changed her story because it was easier than admitting she had given up her child.

McMahon found the Willetts' children had expressed hostility towards their parents and had opportunity to taint each other's testimony as well as Goldrick’s, and chose not to rely on their evidence.

Sentencing arguments are expected to be heard on March 23.

Maria Willett has pleaded not guilty to similar charges but will be tried separately. Goldstein said any findings made in her husband's case would not affect her trial.