Case 'absolute rubbish' say supporters, as Ropati freed

By Andrew Koubaridis

There were emotional scenes in court this afternoon as former Kiwi league player Tea Ropati was found not guilty on six charges of sexual assault.

Immediately after the final verdict, there was pandemonium as Ropati's supporters erupted with a loud shout of "yes" and some in the gallery sobbed.

There were shouts of: "Show us the justice, where is the justice?"

In a statement following the verdict Ropati said he was relieved.

"I deeply regret that my actions caused so much pain to all those who love me, my wife Vanessa, my children, my mum and dad, brothers and sisters," Ropati said.

"I never doubted that I would be found innocent of all the charges. I have been honest and upfront at all times with everyone concerned."

It was standing room only in the packed court room when the jury returned to give its verdicts.

Ropati's wife, Vanessa, who had given testimony on behalf of her husband during the trial, sat at the back with a supporter on each side holding her hands.

The verdicts, given one after the other, were greeted intially with silence, although Mrs Ropati broke out in a smile of relief after the first few of the not guilty announcements.

One of his brothers, broadcaster Peter Ropati, called out that the case had been "absolute rubbish"

"This should never have happened to us. Give us our time, give us our justice," Peter Ropati said.

Outside the court room, tensions boiled over with one of Ropati's supporters slapping the face of a photographer.

Ropati showed little emotion while the verdicts were read out, but at the end clasped his hands in an offer of thanks to the jurors.

The seven men and five women on the jury, who retired at 1pm yesterday, delivered their verdicts on the eighth day of the Auckland District Court trial, after almost 12 hours of deliberations.

The former Warriors rugby league player had denied charges of attempted sexual violation, sexual violation, rape, and sodomy.

The Crown had alleged Ropati ended up at the Whiskey Bar on Auckland's Ponsonby Rd, where he met the complainant.

During the trial jurors were shown video footage of the pair in the bar.

The woman had been drinking at the bar with a group of friends.

Ropati was alleged to have attempted to sexually violate the woman in a back room of the bar, then allegedly raped and sexually violated her at nearby Victoria Park.

Ropati is due back in court tomorrow to face a separate charge of driving under the influence of alcohol on New Year's Day.

In a written statement read out by defence counsel Gary Gotlieb, Ropati said he knew he had to address ongoing issues with alcohol.

Faatea (Tea) Ropati's rugby league career
Born: September 7, 1965

Clubs: Newcastle Knights 1988, St Helens 1989 to 1994, Warriors 1995 to 1999

Position: Centre

International teams: Junior Kiwis, Kiwis, Samoa

Career highlights: British league player of the year: 1992/1993. Played in the inaugural Auckland Warriors match against Brisbane Broncos in March, 1995 and was player of the year.

Ropati played in the centres alongside Dean Bell and was known for his pace and finishing. He has since fought in the charity boxing match Fight for Life in 2004 to raise money for the Meningitis Trust. Ropati also worked with youth in Manukau on the At-Risk Youth Manukau Project.

- with NZPA

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