Today a jury found Colin Jack Mitchell guilty of kidnapping a 23-year-old woman from central Auckland, driving her to a deserted quarry west of the city and assaulting her. Senior crime and justice reporter Anna Leask looks back at the trial and tells the story of the fateful night a young woman crossed paths with her attacker, and how she got away.
It was dark.
She had no idea where she was and the fear hit her as soon as she came to.
Her back was bare, the space where her dress should have been covering her skin pressed into cold, pricking gravel.
She could feel something warm running down one side of her face and knew - though she knew little else about her situation at the time - that it was her own blood.
She looked up and saw him.
He stood over her, a weapon that looked like a bat in one hand, a mask covering his face.
She knew exactly what he wanted to do to her, what was going to happen if she didn't fight.
"That's not going to happen to me," she thought.
Her battle for survival began.
On February 26 2017, in the early hours of the morning, the life of a 23-year-old Auckland woman changed forever.
When she left her Kingsland flat to meet friends for a night out she was carefree, happy, excited.
Hours later she would be covered in her own blood, battered and injured, traumatised and terrified.
The architect of this horrific scene?
Colin Jack Mitchell.
The night began as many do for 23 year olds.
The victim walked from her home to a mate's place nearby.
They had plans to have a few drinks and make their way to Ponsonby where the annual Auckland Pride Festival parade was on.
There were a few people there, a few laughs had, a few drinks consumed.
By the victim's recollection she had about half a bottle of wine at the house - two of her mates finished off a litre of vodka between them.
They headed to Ponsonby Rd and parked up at Chapel, a popular bar in the middle of the iconic street.
The victim was wearing a light, floaty floral dress and sandals and her girlfriend had applied some glitter to her skin by way of a sparkly glue-filled pen in honour of the pride parade.
At Chapel the good times kept on rolling and the group had more drinks - described in court as "glittery cocktails" - as the parade meandered past them, the vibrant floats adorned with anything and everything that represented the LGBT+ community.
When the parade finished, Ponsonby Rd roared into life. The victim and her friends crossed the street to popular restaurant Mexico to have dinner, and more drinks - as you do on a Saturday night out.
There were mojitos. Tequila.
And that's the last thing the victim remembers until she woke up in the dark, silent quarry, a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
After she was found by police, after she was stripped almost naked, beaten with a weapon and threatened by her attacker, investigators began to fill in the blanks of the night.
Through her friends and CCTV cameras positioned around Ponsonby, police were able to piece together just how she fell into the clutches of Mitchell.
She left Mexico with her mates and headed towards Ink Bar on Karangahape Rd where she had arranged to meet some others.
It was a 1.4km walk along a route still packed with revellers and an abundance of police on duty.
As she walked the victim met a man and started talking to him.
She was lagging behind so her friends went on without her, saying they would meet her at Ink.
CCTV footage from the Mobil station at the corner of Ponsonby and K Rds show her staggering along with the man, leaning on him for support.
He walked her to Ink and then - he may have chatted to her mates or even had a drink with them, their recollections vary - the man made his way off into the night.
It would later emerge that this man, who has name suppression, was a convicted rapist.
He admitted in court that he'd thought about having sex with the victim, but that never transpired.
There was no suggestion of any intention on his part to harm her or take advantage, the Crown said.
It was just unfortunate that on that particular night, she met that particular man in her travels.
Up at K Rd, the victim never made it into Ink, she was too intoxicated and the bouncers refused her entry.
She sat outside and was filmed using her phone intermittently, speaking to her friends as they came in and out of the bar to check on her, and finally, walking off.
No one heard from her after that.
It's likely she decided that if she wasn't getting into Ink, she was going home.
She decided - as many of us have after a few too many - to walk, and made her way back along K Rd, crossing over the Newton Rd intersection and along Great North Rd.
It's likely she was heading for Bond St, its overbridge leading straight to Kingsland.
It's likely she would have made it home safely - if not for one thing.
Colin Jack Mitchell.
CCTV cameras show the victim staggering along Great North Rd.
It's not a dark or dingy stretch, it's well lit, usually busy and would have been heaving with traffic that night - taxis, people going to and from the parade and other events in the city.
The victim was seen in various footage, collected later by police as part of the investigation, walking along Great North Rd holding or using her phone.
At 1.12 am she was filmed walking near the 24-hour McDonald's.
And then, nothing.
The trail ended, there was no further trace of the 23-year-old.
She was gone.
At 1.12am, not far from the McDonalds, a silver Ford Mondeo turned into Great North Rd and travelled towards where the 23-year-old was walking.
It turned into McKelvie St, but less than a minute later, spun around and headed back onto Great North Rd.
Soon after, the car travelled down Bond St, crossing New North Rd onto Sandringham Rd.
The Crown theorised that perhaps the driver offered the victim a ride home, headed towards Kingsland where she lived and then took advantage when he noticed she passed out, emboldened to head further away and assault her.
They quickly focused their attention on that Ford and within a matter of days, established that there was a high likelihood it belonged to a man named Colin Jack Mitchell.
Mitchell was 59 at the time.
He lived in Onehunga alone - he never married, didn't have a partner or kids - and worked as a truck driver.
He'd had the same job for about 20 years; on the surface he was a pretty respectable sort, he was even the local RSA president for a time.
Police honed in on Mitchell as they made their way through a list of Auckland men who owned silver or light-coloured Ford Mondeos.
A mobility parking card had been spotted in the front window of the suspect car on CCTV footage, and Mitchell's vehicle displayed something similar.
It was almost two weeks after the attack when police finally knocked on Mitchell's door.
He denied being in the city that night, denied being anywhere Riverhead, denied being the man police had been hunting since the attack was reported.
It was then that Mitchell began to spin his web of lies - or try to.
The night of the attack he was at home, he claimed.
He watched a movie called Garfield, maybe a bit of a sitcom and probably played cards on his computer.
Later that night he drove his silver Ford Mondeo to the Onehunga wharf.
He went there a lot, when the tide was right, to soak his legs.
Mitchell was crushed by a 780kg coil in 2011 and still experienced pain.
He struggled to walk, and with stairs, and bathing in the cool water near his home helped alleviate the pain.
"My left leg is partly numb at the bottom, one side's okay, the other's not - pinched nerve," he would later tell the jury.
He strenuously denied going anywhere near Great North Rd or Riverhead, but admitted in court that after going to the water he drove to a park in Avondale that he liked, to rest his legs and relax.
He hated crowds, heavy traffic - despite being a professional driver - and would never have ventured into the city fringe on a busy Saturday night.
But cellphone records put a pin in that defence.
Cellphone data later obtained by police showed a phone belonging to Mitchell in the
Mt Eden area minutes before the victim was kidnapped.
His phone would later be tracked to an area in West Auckland with Riverhead smack bang in the middle.
Mitchell still denied any involvement - even when CCTV at the quarry where the woman was assaulted turned up images of a silver car, highly likely a Ford Mondeo, entering and leaving the area.
That footage, the last in a string of images used by the Crown as evidence against Mitchell, was eerie.
The silver car creeps into the quarry about 1.45am.
The quarry sits at the end of Sawmill Rd in Riverhead and is about 25km from Great North
Rd - a 23-minute drive at normal speed with average traffic.
At 2.01am the same silver car belts out of the quarry, visibly much faster than when it went in.
Just metres away, in the dark silence of the same quarry, covered in her own blood, scrambling over loose gravel to get away from the man she feared would end her life, the
23-year-old called 111.
When the victim woke for the first time, her attacker had been standing over her with a weapon, a mask covering his face.
The jury heard her harrowing story - the first time the full details of her ordeal had been made public.
"I woke up in a gravel area and I can remember feeling this side of my head was just covered in blood.
"I think I had my undies on but I'm not sure, I definitely didn't have my dress on.
"And there was a man with a mask and some kind of softball or baseball bat and I was crunched up on the ground.
"I don't really remember what he was wearing, I know he had some kind of bat and I have an inkling that it was a baseball bat, thin at one end and thicker at the other.
"He kept asking me to turn around, he was standing about a metre away from me … I just knew this wasn't going to happen to me, so I just refused everything.
"He sounded very strange and he wanted me to turn around and I refused and I just kept begging.
"I just said 'no, I'm not, I'm not, this isn't going to happen to me'.
"I think I was saying to him 'you don't have to do this, you don't have to be this person'.
"I don't know if he said 'you are going to get yourself killed' or 'I'm going to kill you' but he was threatening me with the bat."
"I just kept begging and begging and begging and begging and just saying this wasn't happening … and I remember him hitting me across the face.
"I starting panicking, thinking 'I've got to go, I've got to have a plan."
She feared she would be raped and then killed.
The attacker kept demanding the victim to turn around and she refused.
"So he hit me again and I must have passed out or got knocked out," she said.
"And then I don't remember anything."
She was not prepared to let that happen to her - but her refusal to comply with the masked man resulted in another heavy blow to her head.
The next time she woke up she was on the move.
Remember, she had been drinking - too much, conceded the Crown - but she'd also been struck at least twice times across the head with a substantial weapon.
It's no surprise she had no memory of the sequence of events.
When she came to the second time she was frantically scrambling across loose gravel, terrified she was being followed or that she would hurtle down into the quarry holes below.
Before she even realised she was conscious, she was on the phone to a friend, begging for help, saying she'd had to play dead to get away.
She then called 111.
"I had no idea where I was," she said.
"I was scared."
It would take an hour for police to find the distraught woman.
She had no idea where she was, there were no signs or landmarks, and she had no data on her phone so couldn't help police pinpoint her coordinates.
Eventually she came to a building at the quarry - she was finally able to give police enough information to find her.
She cowered, petrified her attacker was lurking nearby.
She wet her pants and threw up, the fear taking over her whole body.
The woman stayed on the phone with the police operator until she saw blue and red flashing lights.
Help had come, but her ordeal was far from over.
"I just remember running out and I just wanted a hug but … they didn't want to touch me for DNA."
With only fragments of memory and an attacker who had disguised himself, the victim was unable to give police a solid description of her attacker.
In the early days, they had no idea who he was and why he had targeted the 23-year-old.
But in the 12 days that followed the victim being found at quarry, a picture began to emerge of the man responsible.
Colin Jack Mitchell.
The CCTV footage. The car. Police were confident Mitchell was their man.
When they got DNA results back - that confidence grew to 100 per cent certainty.
The DNA came from a glove found near the scene of the attack at the quarry.
It was close to the pool of the victim's blood that poured from her head wound as she lay injured at the mercy of her attacker.
It was close to the victim's shoes that presumably fell off as she made her escape.
It was close to drag and claw marks, the result of the victim being dragged through dirt and gravel from her attacker's car and trying to get away from him.
It was close to her cellphone, found lying in the dirt where it fell as she fled.
The glove was tested by forensic experts and the DNA found on and inside it matched a sample taken from Mitchell's house when police searched it.
But Mitchell had a different tale to tell.
He was not, he claimed, the Riverhead quarry attacker.
Police had the wrong man.
From the get-go, Mitchell denied the offending.
It wasn't him, it wasn't his car - he simply was not on Great North Rd that morning and he certainly wasn't at Riverhead.
A year to the day of the attack, he spoke for the first time.
After 10 days sitting in the dock in Courtroom 6 at the High Court at Auckland, listening
to witness after witness give evidence in the Crown case, it was Mitchell's turn.
His appearance has changed markedly since his first appearance in court last year - he's lost weight and his already white hair and beard seem a much paler shade.
He sat quietly, sometimes making notes, but mostly just listening.
When it was his turn, he explained his movements the night of the attack.
His account would later be branded "a pack of lies" by the Crown - a sentiment arguably believed by the jury who found him guilty.
"Where would you have gone from Avondale?" defence lawyer Mark Ryan quizzed his client.
"I would have come back to my address," Mitchell responded.
"What time did you get home?" Ryan pressed.
Mitchell said he didn't remember.
"Possibly after midnight," he said.
Ryan asked Mitchell: "Did you travel to the Riverhead area that night?"
"No, I've never been up there in my own car," Mitchell asserted.
He responded similarly, with a firm "no" when Ryan asked if he had travelled near Great North Rd the night of the attack - and to the most important question.
"Did you uplift a young lady?" said Ryan.
"No I did not," Mitchell stated.
The truck driver went on to explain how his DNA got on the gloves found at the scene of
the brutal attack.
Mitchell needed a pair of gloves so went to The Warehouse to see if he could find some.
He found a three-pack of gloves, all connected together by packaging ties, and tried one pair on.
"I would have seen them and thought they looked good and tried them on," he told the jury of the gloves found at the quarry.
Ryan asked if Mitchell purchased the gloves after trying them on.
"No, I didn't. I think these ones were too expensive," he claimed.
He later said the gloves were "not satisfactory to what I wanted to have" so he "hung them back up and kept going".
Ryan claimed that the "real" attacker must have purchased the exact same pair and left them at the quarry.
Mitchell was also adamant that the car in the CCTV footage in the city and at Riverhead was not his.
But, after more than two weeks of evidence including police first to the scene, those who undertook the scene examination, cellphone, car, DNA experts and that crucial CCTV
footage, the jury simply did not believe him.
Despite his lawyer pulling the Crown case apart, strand by strand - rejecting the "unreliable" cellphone evidence, denying his client's car was the offending vehicle and doing his best to convince the jury that the glove DNA was coincidental - the jury believed it.
Mitchell was the offender, it was his car, he was guilty.
In the trial of she said, he said - she was the one they believed.