Woman who stabbed partner 'entitled to protect herself' - defence

1:35 pm on 10 February 2020

A woman stabbed her abusive partner before saying "I just murdered somebody" within earshot of police, a court has been told.

Auckland court coat of arms.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Karen Ruddelle is on trial at the High Court in Auckland charged with murdering Joseph Ngapera in Manurewa in the early hours of 14 November 2018.

The couple had been drinking and socialising at a local bar before a family member dropped them at their Thompson Terrace home about 3am.

An hour and a half later Ruddelle's son called 111 after finding Ngapera lying unresponsive on the dining room floor with two stab wounds to his chest.

The Crown's case is that the woman stabbed her partner with a knife found behind a nearby washing basket.

The knife later tested positive for Ngapera's DNA.

This morning Crown prosecutor Chris Howard said the events leading up to Ngapera's death may have seemed normal, but the couple's three-and-a-half year relationship had not been without its problems.

Ruddelle was granted a protection order in July 2016 and Ngapera was convicted of breaching this order the following year by verbally abusing the woman, chasing her out of the house and threatening to bottle her.

Howard said there were other occasions when Ruddelle had called police to her home to report threats, but by September 2018 the protection order had been discharged at her own request.

He told the jury Ruddelle was in the lounge when police and ambulance officers arrived at her house.

"Ruddelle was described as acting erratically; suddenly switching moods from hysterical crying to aggression."

Howard said she had asked one police officer "is Joseph gone?" and then said "thank you, Jesus" when they confirmed he had died.

"She said Joseph had been drinking and so had she. She said that Joseph came at her like he always does and she just grabbed something near, that object being a knife.

"She said Joseph was intimidating like he always is and he came towards her. She told him to stop. She said that she grabbed the knife off the table and Joseph lunged at the knife."

Howard said Ruddelle had told police Ngapera had lunged at her after she told him to stop but a post mortem found two stab wounds which would have required two assaults.

He told the jury one of the police officers then heard Ruddelle say "I just murdered somebody. Someone I loved so much".

That officer wrote those words down, and Ruddelle signed the page but quickly changed her mind and scribbled out her signature, Howard said.

Ruddelle's defence lawyer Shane Cassidy told the jury his client had killed the man she loved but that she was not guilty of murder.

He said the couple were arguing on the night Ngapera died, when Ruddelle called out to one of her two sleeping sons for help.

Cassidy said she had called out for her adult son but it was her 14-year-old boy who came to her aid instead; shoving Ngapera in the chest.

"At that point in time Karen instinctively picked up what was near - which was a knife on the dining table - put herself between her child and her partner and stabbed Joseph twice in the chest to protect her son from what she believed was going to follow."

"But for the fact that her son intervened when he did and in the way that he did, the defence say that that particular use of force at that very moment would not have been necessary."

Cassidy said that what had been going through his client's mind in that "split second" would be important to the jury's deliberations.

"It is the defence's case that while Karen loved Joseph, notwithstanding the violence, she wanted to marry him and did not intend his death. She killed, in effect, the man that she loved but she did not want or intend for him to die."

"What was on her mind when she caused his death was her son. The defence say in those circumstances, given what she knew of Joseph, she was entitled to protect herself and most importantly her son."

The jury will hear from 30 Crown witnesses including Ruddelle's eldest son. It will not hear from her youngest son because his wider family did not give police permission to take a formal statement.

The trial before Justice Palmer and a jury of eight women and four men is set down for two weeks.