Friends of a 16-year-old youth who admitted raping a 5-year-old girl in a caravan at a Turangi campground remain in disbelief at the attack, a mate says.
The youth pleaded guilty yesterday when he made his third appearance in Taupo Youth Court, four weeks after the brutal attack that left his young victim with injuries that required four hours of surgery at Waikato Hospital. He was further remanded in custody.
His admission to charges of burglary and sexual violation by rape, as well as a third charge of aggravated wounding, which was amended to causing grievous bodily harm, clears the way for a sentence to be handed down in Rotorua next month.
The assault at Club Habitat on December 21 provoked an outpouring of national shame and left her family - visitors to New Zealand - inundated with gifts and offers of support.
It also led to shouts of abuse and sparked an angry confrontation when the youth was first led through the courthouse yard - but yesterday only cameras and a handful of silent bystanders watched him as he was escorted past with a blue towel draped over his head.
Inside, the court was told he had met members of his whanau at an arranged conference at the weekend and had earlier written a letter of apology to the little girl's family.
Judge Jocelyn Munro ordered the case to be moved to Rotorua District Court, telling him: "The seriousness is such that no sentence in the Youth Court could be adequate."
The maximum penalties for sexual violation by rape and burglary are 20 years and 10 years in prison respectively, while the maximum penalty for causing grievous bodily harm carries 14 years.
Judge Munro also ordered strict suppression orders around the youth to remain in place, and also restricted any reporting of the identity and nationality of the victim and her family's travel plans.
Family members who supported the youth from the public gallery again refused to comment outside the court, while the victim's parents, who are believed to still be in New Zealand, released no statement in response to his guilty plea.
After the hearing, a friend who had played sport with the youth recounted how his mates had reacted with disbelief when they learned of the attack.
"He was a nice guy, he was always laughing ... Everyone could get along with him ... Occasionally he'll have huffies with other people but it was nothing serious," he said.
"Once I heard his name involved with this [I thought] that ain't him - everyone I know, all the boys, everyone was like - that ain't him, there is no way he would do something like that."
He hoped his friend "learns a lesson" from whatever sentence will be handed down to him on February 23 - but said heated calls for him to be hanged made him angry.
"[The victim's] family will be mad, but he doesn't deserve to be hung at all ... everyone loved him."
Turangi councillor Gary Keepa said locals were relieved that "there is finally closure".
"He's done the decent thing and manned up ... but there is still concern that it ever happened in the first place."
The attack also stirred a young Auckland mother to call for justice reform.
Speaking outside court, Tamsin Marshall said she had received nearly 800 signatures to her online petition to introduce cumulative sentences for serious offenders. "When it happened, I was horrified - I actually lay in bed imagining it was my little girl. I've been reading the papers for years and have watched the increase in violent crimes and being horrified ... and this case was the point where enough is enough, something has to be done."