15 Jun 2012

Elderly man deemed unfit to be tried on sex charges

9:54 pm on 15 June 2012

An elderly man facing multiple serious sex offending charges has walked free from court but lost his bid for permanent name suppression.

William Cornelius, 79, has been deemed unfit to stand trial based on medical reports he is suffering from mild dementia.

Twenty-two charges, including nine counts of rape, were laid against Mr Cornelius for alleged offending against four women between 1966 and 1990.

Mr Cornelius was first charged in December 2009.

Judge David Cameron had earlier ruled that on the balance of probabilities, the man had committed the crimes he was accused of.

But because of his ill-health, the judge on Friday granted a stay of proceedings, meaning that Mr Cornelius was able to leave the Whanganui District Court neither acquitted nor convicted.

The judge says staying the case was the only option and both the Crown and defence supported the move.

"It is clear that Mr Cornelius is suffering from a degenerative disability, namely dementia. His condition is likely to get worse.

"It is also significant that Mr Cornelius has been assessed as being of no significant further risk to the community."

Mr Cornelius' lawyer John Rowan, QC, told the court his client does not pose a sexual danger to the public and a guardian has been appointed to look after his welfare following a "very thorough and vigourous process".

The first complainant to come forward, Heather Walsh, had her automatic name suppression lifted on Friday at her request.

Verbal abuse was hurled at William Cornelius as he left, with one complainant describing him as "an old mongrel" as he was he was led outside and bundled into a waiting car.

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Outside court, Heather Walsh told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Friday that having William Cornelius' name in the public domain was her only goal.

"It's the only thing near to justice out of the whole last four years, basically and for me, the fact that people now know what he's done to so many women in his lifetime.

"People know who he is, people know what he's done, and other victims out there that the police may not have contacted may be able to now get some help."

Ms Walsh says she does not believe his mild dementia should stop him from standing trial.

However, a professor who specialises in mental health law and fitness to stand trial says the judge had no option but to release William Cornelius.

Warren Brookbanks from Auckland University says a judge can order compulsory detention - but only if the defendant poses a danger to the community.

He says under law, because Mr Cornelius was not a risk to the public or suffered from a mental illness, the only available option to the judge was to discharge him.