Sturm retrial finds guilty on drug and sex charges

By David Eames

Former Auckland restaurant owner Philip Sturm was last night convicted on six charges of drugging and sexually violating men in a retrial of a case first heard in 2003.

After three days' deliberation, a High Court jury - reduced to 10 jurors over the five-week trial - returned guilty verdicts on five counts of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection and one charge of stupefaction. Sturm did not react to the verdicts.

Sturm was acquitted on seven similar counts but he will return to prison, where he has already served 18 months of the nine-year sentence he received in the first trial.

At that time he was found guilty on 10 counts related to the sexual violation of four men.

Last night in Auckland, Justice Hugh Williams thanked the jury for its diligence, then moved to assure a small crowd watching from the public gallery - some of them in tears - that everything possible had been done by both defence and prosecution counsel.

The jurors spent almost 30 hours deciding Sturm's guilt. They were told they were taking part in a retrial, but all details of the first trial, including the fact it went to appeal, were suppressed.

It can now be revealed that in June last year the Court of Appeal quashed Sturm's original convictions and ordered a new trial.

In the first trial the Crown alleged Sturm had given the men drugs and then engaged in sexual acts without their consent. Sturm admitted supplying Ecstasy and methamphetamine, but he maintained the sex was consensual.

Crown prosecutor Philip Hamlin said psychiatric reports showed Sturm denied responsibility and did not recognise the impact his offending had on the men.

One report indicated Sturm had a "narcissistic personality disorder" and had described him as "condescending", "domineering towards others", "manipulative" and having "a lack of insight into his own shortcomings".

At the earlier trial Justice Robert Chambers told the jury to acquit Sturm of the stupefying charges, saying none of the complainants was ever in a state of stupor as he defined the term.

The jury found Sturm guilty on eight charges of sexual violation, one charge of attempted sexual violation and one of indecent assault.

But both Sturm and the Crown appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Sturm claimed his trial had been tainted, and the Crown said the trial judge should not have told the jury it could not find the defendant guilty of stupefying.

Court of Appeal Justices Noel Anderson, Grant Hammond and William Young agreed with the Crown and said Sturm should be tried again on the sexual and stupefying charges.

Sturm has more than 20 years in the restaurant trade, starting as a young waiter with ambition.

At the height of his success he called himself "the conductor". He ran Otto's in the Metropolis building, Cibo in Parnell and the waterfront bar Coast.

Sturm was remanded in custody for sentencing on May 26.

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