The Southland Times reports…
“A Southland woman was sickened to discover a man who gave her sanctuary turned out to be her attacker in a home invasion months earlier.
Simon Gordon Wallace, 49, a former elder at the Invercargill Grace Presbyterian Church, was sentenced to three years’ six months in prison in the Invercargill District Court on Thursday for injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, burglary and a separate charge of careless driving causing injury.
He limped into the dock on crutches, and sat with his head down, while Judge Kevin Phillips recounted the “sadistic”, “premeditated” and “violent” attack on the woman in her home last year.
The woman, who has been granted final name suppression, was asleep in her Invercargill home about 1.40am when she was woken by a strong smell.
The summary of facts say the victim saw a shadow of someone standing near her bedroom door. A material like a rag or towel was dangled around her face while she was lying on her back in bed. The strong smell was similar to nail polish. She switched her bedroom light on using a switch by her bed and saw a man standing beside her bed wearing dark clothing and something similar to a mask or balaclava.
As soon as the light was turned on the man launched himself at her and began punching her around the head. He also placed his hands around her throat, attempting to strangle her.
She screamed, “stop, let me go” and tried to protect her head and later felt the material again over her face and began to feel “wheezy” and overcome by the smell, before managing to grab the material and throw it away.
The man continued to punch the woman, but she managed to make her way to her window, where she held a washing basket over her head to protect herself while Wallace punched her and tried to strangle her again. She remembered the man trying to tie her hands together.
She tried to protect her head further by putting it under a chest of drawers.
Because of the nature and duration of the attack, the woman believed she was going to die. She later managed to make her way to her ensuite, where she locked the door and fled out the window, running, screaming and hysterical, to her neighbours.
White latex gloves, black leather training mitts, a towel and three cable ties were left in the house by the offender, and a smear of blood was also found on a wall in the bedroom.
Reading her victim impact statement to the court, she said the attack had a “profound and devastating” impact on her life.
“I remember the smell of solvent, the shock and fear that I felt when I realised a man was in my bedroom, and I very clearly remember the feeling that I was going to die as I lost consciousness when Simon strangled me. I don’t know whether he was planning to rape me, kill me, or both. He is a dangerous person.”
After the attack, Wallace invited her to stay with him and his family.
“I did not expect the attacker to be someone I knew…The betrayal is not only abhorrent but has made dealing with the home invasion infinitely more challenging than it could have otherwise have been. I am sickened when I think that I stayed with Simon after the attack and that he was anywhere near me. It is horrifying that he could commit such a violent crime and then proceed to cover up his crime in such a calculated manner.”
The judge said through DNA evidence and “astute” detective work, Wallace was identified as the perpetrator.
Analysis of the defendant’s cellphone determined he had been out of the region on the day before the attack but had returned to Invercargill about 8.30pm.
When spoken to by police, Wallace denied being responsible for the attack and said he had been in Central Otago and had not returned to Invercargill until the following morning after being advised of the attack.
While police were DNA testing people known to the victim to eliminate them, Wallace crashed his car on December 18 last year, the day he was due to give a DNA sample, the judge said.
“The obvious inference is that these matters were related…a matter of concern to me is you were the perpetrator but you pretended to come back to help her and you made all kinds of suggestions that clearly she should stay at your home and be comforted by you after this attack and she did. She lived with you not knowing you were the very person who caused all this grief.”
Wallace had maintained he could not remember the crime and his actions were a result of having taken sleeping pills.
Crown lawyer John Young said the attack had been premeditated and he had shown a “true lack of remorse” demonstrated in a letter he emailed to his church.
The letter, which says, “I am guilty of this, but these are the reasons why”, was not a full acknowledgement – rather he was shifting the blame, Young said.
Defence lawyer Bill Dawkins said Wallace had paid the victim $50,000 in emotional harm which should be taken into consideration in the sentencing, and had written a letter from his cell describing his actions as “repugnant”.
Dawkins called Wallace’s behaviour “bizarre”.
“I don’t understand, the Crown doesn’t understand, the police don’t understand, no-one does.”
After the sentencing, the victim said: “I’m happy with the sentence. I think justice was served, and I’m thankful for the overwhelming support from the community and police for their hard work.”
Detective Matt Wyatt said police were pleased with the sentence handed down.
“I know this will bring some closure to the victim. Police have been providing her support during the court case and know the relief this brings to her, especially in such a complex case.
“It also brings a sense of closure to the community who have been watching in anticipation for the outcome.”
A week after the attack Wallace, who sometimes filled in at the Wyndham Evangelical Church, gave a sermon that was posted on youtube where he speaks out against sinning.
In the clip Wallace says: “Sometimes it’s easier to lie than to tell the truth to get out of something”. The clip has since been deleted.”