The High Court at Wellington.
A woman has described her terror after she unknowingly picked up an escaped prisoner from the side of the road, who allegedly went on to rape her.
The prisoner, who has interim name suppression, is on trial at the High Court in Wellington.
He’s charged with one count of abduction for the purpose of sexual connection, assault with a weapon and sexual violation by rape.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Crown’s case is that the man escaped from Rimutaka Prison in Upper Hutt two days before the alleged offending, hiding out in an abandoned warehouse where he stole a large knife.
He has previously pleaded guilty to charges in relation to this.
Crown lawyer Janilee Avia alleges the victim – whose name is also suppressed – was driving to Masterton from Wellington on February 20, 2022, after the Parliament protest.
The defendant was hitchhiking on the side of the road when she pulled up alongside him and invited him into her car.
Once inside the woman’s car, Avia said the man pulled a large knife from his backpack and revealed he was not who the woman thought he was.
He then threatened his victim with the knife, saying he had gutted things before, and there was “no harm in doing it again”. He told her he was going to have sex with her, and that she needed to take him to Hunterville.
On Friday, a video of the complainant’s police interview was played in court to the jury.
The woman described pulling over to pick up the defendant, and described feeling a slight tinge of panic as he ran towards her car. However, as she had pulled over she told herself it would be rude to drive away.
Once he was inside the car, she said they chatted briefly about not much – until she realised something was very wrong.
She described her terror when he pulled the knife on her, telling the officer that her heart was in her throat.
“So much was going on in my head thinking ‘oh my god I can’t believe I’ve done this, how am I going to get out, I’m driving too fast, will he swing the knife?’ I can’t pull up and run because of my arthritis in my leg.”
“I just thought – how am I going to get out? What am I going to do? This is real, this is not a movie. I’ve done the wrong thing, I’ve picked up this guy, I’ve put myself in a dangerous position he’s almost threatening my life.”
The victim said the defendant told her to turn off the road. When she asked if she could just drop him off in Hunterville, he told her again to pull off the road and she drove to a nearby cemetery.
This is where the Crown alleges he raped her.
The complainant said she was terrified of the defendant and knew she could not escape as the arthritis in her leg meant she could not outrun him or fight.
“I couldn’t run – where was I going to go without him catching me? I thought I could only make it worse for myself by denying him. I just felt he was going to do it one way or another or bring that knife out and I didn’t want that knife to come out.”
They then drove through to Masterton and stopped at a laundromat to dry the man’s rain-soaked clothing. Here, the victim gathered the courage to tell someone in the laundromat what was happening, and they called the police who arrested the man shortly after.
“I just dipped – my legs gave out under me,” the victim said in her evidence.
“I grabbed [the person who called police] and gave him the biggest, biggest hug and he said ‘it’s alright you’re safe’ and I just howled on his shoulder and said you just saved my life, I was a dead woman walking.”
Upon his arrest, the defendant said he had not presented a knife, nor threatened the woman and that their sex had been consensual.
Defence lawyer Semisi Pohiva told the court on Thursday the defendant admits he had escaped prison, and stolen a knife, as he thought he may need it if he decided to “go bush” – but that he did not present this knife to the complainant, nor did he threaten her.
Instead, Pohiva argued the woman had seen the knife accidentally. He added that while the defendant admits that sexual intercourse occurred, it was consensual. He also denies that the woman was held against her will.
“He was hitchhiking. All that happened was the complainant stopped, picked him up and was happy to take him where he needed to go.”
Pohiva said the interactions between the defendant and the complainant were pleasant and that the woman’s actions led the man to believe the sex was consensual.
The trial is set down for five days and will continue on Monday.
Vita Molyneux is a Wellington-based journalist who covers breaking news and stories from the capital. She has been a journalist since 2018 and joined the Herald in 2021.