Ngapera murder trial: Defence lawyer makes impassioned closing address for Karen Ruddelle

5:23 pm on 19 February 2020

The lawyer of a woman accused of murdering her abusive partner says it's a textbook example of what the government was trying to prevent when it introduced new domestic violence laws last year.

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Karen Anne Ruddelle made an impassioned summing-up at the Auckland High Court today. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye/ 123rf

Karen Anne Ruddelle claims she was acting in self defence when she stabbed Joseph Ngapera twice in the chest in their Manurewa home, but the prosecution says it was a deliberate killing.

In an impassioned closing address, defence lawyer, Shane Cassidy, listed dozens of instances of physical and verbal abuse that Ngapera inflicted on Ruddelle.

This included grabbing her by the neck and strangling her as he pushed her against a wall, as well as numerous threats to kill.

"How many times does someone need to be told that they're going to be killed before you start to believe that that is a very real possibility? Once you've been strangled, held up against the wall with hands around your throat, [you'd] believe that you might die and you'd be pleading for it to stop...

"This is not you, Joe. This is not you," Cassidy said, recounting what Ruddelle once told her partner.

Cassidy told the Auckland High Court jury that even if someone intended to kill but did so in self-defence, then they had not committed a crime.

Even so, he said Ruddelle had no such intention.

The only thing going through her mind at the time was an instinctive desire to protect her son, he said.

"What Karen did was driven by that non-rational part of her brain, and that explanation fits perfectly with the force that was used when she stabbed him," he said.

"It was not logical. No thought."

Cassidy banged his fist on the table to highlight the spontaneous nature of her actions.

He said this was exactly the sort of case the government had in mind when it set up the Family Violence Death Review Committee to look at domestic violence.

This resulted in tougher laws for strangulation offences.

"An example of strategic violence is non-fatal strangulation. And this is what we saw time and time in the death review.

"It effectively lets women know that their partners are capable of killing them and their life is in their hands."

Another example of what Cassidy referred to as the "coercive control" exercised by Ngapera was his revelation to Ruddelle that he'd killed a man in Australia and beaten a taxi driver to near death over a fare dispute.

Prosecution's comments

Earlier today, Crown prosecutor Yelena Yelavich told the jury that being in an abusive relationship was not a defence to murder.

"Karen Ruddelle was drunk and she was angry. She stabbed a partner in the chest twice using a knife with a 19cm blade," she said.

"One of the stab wounds was inflicted with such force that it passed through her partner's rib, penetrating his heart."

As she held up the kitchen knife before the jury, Yelavich argued that this wasn't the instinctive, spontaneous action of someone fearing for their life, but a deliberate killing.

"The defendant did act quickly. She did so because she wanted to catch Mr Ngapera by surprise, and she was successful.

"He didn't even get a chance to put his hands up to defend himself, let alone attack or try to attack anyone."

Justice Palmer will deliver his final instructions to the jury on Thursday morning before they retire to consider their verdict.