Former Kiwis rugby league test player Tea Ropati was today found not guilty of six sex charges, including rape.
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.
Ropati, 42, had denied three charges of sexual violation, including one count of rape, and three charges of attempted sexual violation.
The charges arose from incidents at a Ponsonby bar and at Victoria Park in the early hours of June 15, 2006, involving a female complainant who was 36 at the time.
The crown argued that Ropati took advantage of the woman, who was so intoxicated that she could not have consented to sexual activity with him.
The defence denied that a rape occurred because Ropati stopped short of having full sex with the woman as he felt guilty on account of his wife, and said the sexual activity that did take place was consensual.
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.
But 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.
One of his brothers, broadcaster Peter Ropati, called out that the case had been "absolute rubbish".
"Right from the start, it should not have been," he said.
Judge Phil Gittos warned that he would clear the court room unless there was silence.
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.
Outside the court room, he hugged his wife and their baby.
Ropati later made a brief statement to media.
"I want to thank my family and all my friends," he said.
"Without them I would not have been able to cope throughout all of this. I'm just pretty relieved that it's all over."
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.
The complainant in the case issued a written statement.
"While I am devastated by the verdict, I have no regrets about coming forward and would still encourage any woman who endures this type of experience to do so," she said.
"This is the only way we can make sure that our society remains safe for women."
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