Rotorua park stalker: Man admits following woman runner in Puarenga Park

A man who repeatedly followed a petrified runner through a Rotorua track says he stalked her because he enjoyed watching her run.

Rongopai Pene, 21, pleaded guilty to four charges in the Rotorua District Court on Thursday, including accosting a woman on a walking track on September 21 knowing his conduct was likely reasonably to frighten the woman.

He is also charged with three counts of burglary, including entering a building on Pukuatua St on September 27, entering a building on Elizabeth St on September 25 and entering a building on Lytton St on September 21.

Pene’s lawyer, Alistair Burns, said a report was done on Pene to determine if he was mentally fit to enter a plea. The report found that although Pene had schizophrenia, a defence of insanity was not available to him.

Details of Pene’s offending can now be revealed after the police’s summary of facts was released to the Rotorua Daily Post.

Pene was riding a mountain bike on the track at Puarenga Park between the BMX track and Sudima Hotel about 4.45pm on Monday, September 21.

Pene saw a woman and started riding his bike slowly behind her, following about 3m behind, the summary said.

The woman felt uneasy about his presence so she stopped on the side of the track and pretended to check her watch. Pene then rode slowly past her.

The summary said the woman then waited about two minutes before carrying on in the same direction.

Several minutes later, the woman saw Pene hidden on the side of the track squatting behind a bush and looking towards the woman. The summary said it was obvious Pene was trying to hide.

The woman was “extremely fearful” and ran back towards her car. Pene followed behind her again.

Realising this, the woman cut through some bushes on to Te Ngae Rd but Pene found his way to the road and followed her again.

The woman saw another woman walking along the footpath and stopped her and told her what had happened. As she did this, Pene rode slowly past them and was soon out of sight.

The summary said the woman thought Pene was gone and continued running towards Sudima Hotel. But then she saw Pene riding his bike about 50m behind her.

Terrified, she ran straight to the Sudima Hotel and told the Army staff working at the isolation hotel what had happened, the summary said.

When police later found Pene, he told them he “took enjoyment from watching the victim run”, the summary said.

He told police he did not have bad intentions, he was just “stalking her”.

Less than an hour before this incident, Pene committed a burglary just after 4pm on Lytton St.

The summary said Pene took a chair from the rear of the residential property and put it under a bathroom window, popped open a security latch and climbed through, activating the house alarm.

He picked up a metal pole and used it to smash the alarm system, trying to deactivate it. He then rummaged through draws and took several items of clothes valued at $650. He ran off when he was disturbed.

On Friday, September 25, Pene went to a house on Elizabeth St on his mountain bike. He was seen on CCTV riding his bike into the address.

The summary said a short time later the CCTV audio picked up Pene rummaging through belongings inside the house. He took several items of clothes valued about $600.

On Sunday, September 27, he went to a gated property on Pukuatua St and climbed in a bedroom window of a flat.

A woman was asleep on a couch inside the flat and woke to see Pene climbing through the window.

She told him to get out and asked him what he was doing and Pene replied he was “looking for his missus”, before climbing back out the window and leaving, the summary said.

Pene then knocked on a neighbour’s door and asked to use the Wi-Fi, before leaving.

When police later spoke to him, he said he got the wrong address.

Pene has been in custody since his arrest at the end of September.

In court on Thursday, Judge Phillip Cooper said he wanted to order a further psychiatric report to ascertain “the risk of further sexual offending”.

The woman he followed in Puarenga Park was present in court and, when asked by Judge Cooper, declined to take part in restorative justice. Judge Cooper said he also had concerns about restorative justice.

Pene was remanded in custody to reappear on February 22, 2021 for sentencing.

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