Puarenga Park stalker: Rongopai Pene jailed for following woman running
A man who stalked a woman running in a Rotorua track had previously been jailed for lewd offences.
Now Rongopai Pene has been jailed again for two years and seven months after following a woman running on the Puarenga Park track in September last year and committing three burglaries.
Pene has two previous offences from when he masturbated in front of women he didn’t know.
The woman runner, who was left traumatised by his offending, faced Pene in the Rotorua District Court yesterday when the 21-year-old was sentenced.
Through tears, she stood in the courtroom, faced her offender and read out her victim impact statement.
At one stage, she pointed at him telling him she was angry he had taken away her freedom in doing something she loved – running alone.
“On the day this incident happened, I was scared, scared I was about to be raped or murdered. This is the exact vibe I got off you,” the woman told Pene.
The woman said she feared if Pene was let out of prison, he would hurt someone else.
She detailed how his offending had continued to affect her.
“I still struggle to sleep most nights. I work full-time and am absolutely exhausted … I struggle to talk about what happened because I get emotional.
“I just want my life to go back to normal, where I can enjoy being alone and enjoy my freedom. You have taken this from me and I feel it will be a long time before I can live normally again.”
Pene had earlier pleaded guilty to three counts of burglary and one charge of intimidation.
During sentencing, Judge Maree MacKenzie outlined the facts of the case, saying Pene had only been released from prison 12 days earlier for one of 10 previous burglaries he had committed since 2018.
At the start of 2020, Pene had also been jailed for two counts of performing an indecent act after he masturbated in front of women he didn’t know at the Redwoods forest and inside a shop in the central business district.
On September 21, Pene committed a burglary just after 4pm on Lytton St. He opened a security latch and climbed through a bathroom window, activating the house alarm.
He picked up a metal pole and used it to smash the alarm system, trying to deactivate it.
He then rummaged through drawers and took several items of clothes valued at $650. He ran off when he was disturbed.
Just under an hour later, he was riding a mountain bike at Puarenga Park between the BMX track and Sudima Hotel and saw the woman running.
He rode slowly about 3m behind her. Feeling uneasy about his presence, the woman stopped and pretended to check her watch. Pene then rode slowly past her.
Judge MacKenzie said the woman then waited about two minutes before carrying on in the same direction but then came across Pene crouched behind a bush hiding.
Petrified, she turned back the way she came, towards her vehicle, but Pene followed her.
She then cut through some bushes on to Te Ngae Rd but Pene found his way to the road and followed her again.
The woman saw another woman walking along the footpath and stopped her and told her what had happened. As she did this, Pene rode slowly past them and was soon out of sight.
She carried on running but soon noticed he was riding his bike about 50m behind her again.
Terrified, she ran to the Sudima Hotel and told the army staff working at the isolation hotel what had happened.
When police later found Pene, he told them he “took enjoyment from watching the victim run” but claimed he didn’t have bad intentions.
On September 25, Pene was seen on CCTV riding his bike into a property on Elizabeth St.
Inside the house, he rummaged through belongings and took several items of clothes valued about $600.
On September 27, he went to a gated property on Pukuatua St and climbed through a bedroom window while a woman was asleep on a couch. She woke up to see Pene climbing through the window.
She told him to get out and asked him what he was doing and Pene replied he was “looking for his missus”, before climbing back out of the window and leaving.
Judge MacKenzie drew from reports on the likelihood of Pene reoffending which said there was a “significantly higher risk” Pene would re-offend sexually again.
Judge MacKenzie described Pene as a “prolific burglar” who had committed a “huge volume of offending” since 2018.
He had previously been sentenced to intensive supervisions but those efforts had “clearly failed”.
The judge explained the lead offence was burglary, given the charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. She said she was not minimising the impact of Pene’s offending on the woman he stalked, but the intimidation charge only carried a maximum sentence of three months’ imprisonment.
She sentenced him to two years and nine months for the burglary charges and gave the maximum of three months’ imprisonment to be served cumulatively for the intimidation charge.
Judge MacKenzie increased the sentence by six months for recidivist offending and a further two months for offending while on parole, taking the sentence to three years and five months.
She reduced Pene’s sentence by 25 per cent for his early guilty pleas, which reduced the term by 10 months to two years and seven months.
Judge MacKenzie noted Pene suffered from schizophrenia but also pointed out that the psychiatric reports showed his mental health was not a contributing factor to the offending.
She said the irony was Pene coped better inside prison.
“ln prison, because you are structured you are compliant with your medication. It’s when you are released and stop taking the medication that things do not go well for people in the community who are victims of your offending.”
She said she would make the reports on Pene available to the New Zealand Parole Board, which would need to address how the risks of his offending could be mitigated when he is released.
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