Abused woman not guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter

Karen Anne Ruddelle in the High Court at Auckland during her trial for the murder of her partner Joseph Ngapera. Photo: NZ Herald
Karen Anne Ruddelle in the High Court at Auckland during her trial for the murder of her partner Joseph Ngapera. Photo: NZ Herald
A South Auckland woman who stabbed her partner to death after years of domestic violence has been found not guilty of his murder - but guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter.

Joseph Michael Ngapera died in November 2018 after being stabbed twice in the chest.

The first blow pierced his ribs, lung and heart.

His partner Karen Anne Ruddelle has never denied she was responsible for Ngapera's death, but strongly denied the charge of murder.

Rather, she said she was acting in self defence trying to protect herself and her teenage son, and was suffering from social entrapment - effectively battered women's syndrome - after a lifetime of domestic violence - including at the hands of Ngapera.

Over the last nine days a jury of eight women and four men heard evidence from 40 Crown witnesses including Ruddelle's son, who was in the house the night of the alleged murder and tried to revive Ngapera.

They also heard defence evidence from Ruddelle herself and several domestic violence experts who spoke about coercive control and social entrapment - formerly referred to as battered women's syndrome.

And they heard how Ruddelle, after a life of abusive relationships and trauma, had symptoms of PTSD.

The jury retired at 10.40am yesterday and returned to court at 4.45pm today.

They were unanimous in their verdict that Ruddelle was not guilty of murder.

But they were not able to reach a unanimous verdict on the manslaughter charge - so Justice Matthew Palmer accepted a majority verdict - where all but one juror was in agreement.

As the verdict was given Ruddelle stood calmly with her hands clasped in front of her.

Members of her and Ngapera's family - who have attended each day of the trial - were silent in the court room.

Yesterday Crown prosecutor Yelena Yelavich and defence lawyer Shane Cassidy made closing addresses.

Yelavich said the Crown maintained Ruddelle was drunk, angry and "emboldened" when she stabbed Ngapera and was not acting in self defence.

She said the woman could have simply called police or walked away if she felt she or her family were in danger.

Further - there was no clear pattern of coercive control from Ngapera.

"It is not a defence to murder or to manslaughter to say that your partner has previously been violent against you.

"The Crown's case remains the same as it was when it opened the case ... the defendant was not defending herself or her son when she stabbed her partner ... The Crown says that the actions of the defendant were simply not reasonable in the circumstances as she believed them to be.

"The defendant's actions were excessive - when the defendant stabbed Mr Ngapera, she intended to kill him or at the very least she intended to cause him bodily injury."

Cassidy said the Crown could not possibly prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

He said the defence evidence was "overwhelming" and it was clear that when Ruddelle killed Ngapera she was terrified for her life - and her son.

"No, she couldn't have done things differently," h e said."The reality is this - if Joe had punched (her son)... as he'd done to her, then (her son's) life could have ended in front of her, while she stood and watched, and did nothing.

"The decision that Karen made in that split second, was not to take that risk - the decision was instinctive."

Justice Palmer convicted Ruddelle of manslaughter and gave her a first strike warning.

She will be sentenced on April 7.

Justice Palmer requested a home detention report and a cultural report ahead of sentencing.

A Restorative Justice meeting between Ruddelle and Ngapera's family may also be held.

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz