William Winitana jailed for sex crime

By Anna Ferrick

William Winitana pictured about a week before his trial began in the Napier District Court in May of this year. Photo/File.
William Winitana pictured about a week before his trial began in the Napier District Court in May of this year. Photo/File.

A community is in shock after well known opera singer William Winitana was outed as the Hawke's Bay entertainer jailed for a sex offence involving a teenager earlier this year.

Winitana was jailed in June of this year for three years and one month after being found guilty of sexual violation during a trial at the Napier District Court.

He was granted interim name suppression at sentencing which lapsed yesterday.

The 43-year-old featured in the Flaxmere Heroes calendar in 2010 and has performed at a number of local events including a fundraiser concert for victims of the Christchurch earthquake.

Winitana has also hosted and performed at the Waiata Maori Music Awards and tutored classes at the National Youth Drama School.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said the news was a "big shock".

"I had no idea. He's been held up in the opera community, we've used him in a number of things the council have done over the years, as an MC.

I'm completely shocked."

Mr Yule said Winitana had expressed in interest in starting an opera school in Hawke's Bay and had at times been paid for his services to the council.

He said Winitana was a good singer with a good sense of humour.

"I obviously don't condone what has happened, he's committed a serious offence and now has to do the time for that."

Winitana had taught musical theatre at the National Youth Drama School, however a representative from the school declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Hastings District Councillor for the Flaxmere ward Henare O'Keefe said he was saddened by the revelation.

"I'm sad for his family as well as for the victim and their family. I can't imagine how they're feeling. I don't have any other words to describe it."

Mr O'Keefe said he urged the community to gather around the families.

"To all and sundry I say gather around the family and give them support and love."

He said Winitana had changed many lives during his career.

"He's a gifted performer, he could have gone all the way to the top. I would say there wouldn't be many people in New Zealand who would not have heard of William Winitana."

In June the court heard that six years ago Winitana invited a teenage boy, then aged 17, back to his house to take part in a photo shoot. During the shoot the teenager was rubbed in oil by Winitana and asked to pose for the camera in various stages of undress.

Judge Raoul Neave said Winitana "anticipated some enjoyment" out of the encounter when he invited the boy home.

At some point during the encounter, Winitana "stopped thinking" and proceeded to perform a sex act on the boy, the judge said.

"You proceeded without giving thought to whether or not the complainant was consenting or not ... You pounced on this young man in a very compromising and vulnerable situation."

He said the victim, now aged 23, was at "no stage consenting" to the act and "just froze".

"He was out of his depth and didn't know what was going on."

The victim first came forward in 2012, approximately five years after the offending.

Judge Neave said the incident showed a monumental lack of judgement and thought on Winitana's part.

The effects on the teenager had been significant and the victim was "mortified" at having to relive the incident through the trial.

"He still doesn't like having his photo taken or being in videos ... He is yet to tell all of his family what has happened and may never be able to do so."

The judge took into account character references for Winitana and noted during the sentencing his prominent role in the community. Judge Neave said Winitana still showed a lack of understanding or remorse and "had only himself to blame" for his sentence.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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