LOCKPORT – Police officers testified Wednesday that Robert E. MacLeod, the Niagara Falls man accused of robbing and sexually assaulting a Japanese tourist last Christmas night, signed a confession five days later.
However, Niagara County Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said the confession pertained to striking and robbing the woman, not to any sexual abuse.
State Park Police officers who took the stand for a pretrial hearing said MacLeod told them he had the victim's purse and passport at his home.
The Niagara County District Attorney's Office paid to fly the alleged victim, Koyuki Nakahara, to the United States so she could testify against MacLeod before a grand jury, and they will pay to bring her back to testify at the trial. Jury selection is scheduled for Jan. 9.
"It wasn't that expensive," Hoffmann said. She said the county spent less than $2,000 on air fare and two nights in a Lockport motel for Nakahara's trip here in May. The tab next month is expected to be similar.
County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III reserved decision on the admissibility of MacLeod's statement to police. He will make a written ruling sometime between Dec. 16, the deadline for attorneys to submit briefs in the case, and Jan. 3, the date of the final pretrial conference.
"There's been no real discussions about a plea, but if there were to be a plea, (Jan. 3) would be the last day, so we don't call jurors in unnecessarily," the judge said.
MacLeod, 44, was apprehended on the night of Dec. 30, when his car was pulled over for an equipment violation in downtown Niagara Falls. Lt. Patrick Moriarity testified that the car matched the one reported at the crime scene in Niagara Falls State Park.
Detective Sgt. Brian Nisbet testified Wednesday that he and Moriarity confronted MacLeod with photos taken by a surveillance camera at the Maid of the Mist building, which showed some of the encounter with the tourist.
"He denied that was him in the picture," Nisbet testified. "We went back and forth on his car being there."
Nisbet quoted Moriarity as telling MacLeod, "Even your own mother could recognize you from this photograph."
Nakahara told The Buffalo News that she asked MacLeod for directions to the Rainbow Bridge and he volunteered to walk her there, but instead he took her to a dark place in the park and attacked her.
"He explained to me it was a misunderstanding. He gives people directions all the time," Nisbet testified.
Nisbet said he told MacLeod that the woman needed her passport to go home to Japan. "At some point he put his head down and said, 'I'll tell you what happened,'" Nisbet testified.
"The defendant offered to take us to his house and return the victim's purse," Moriarity testified, "if we would let him return home and take care of his dog and take care of his father."
Moriarity said he called Hoffmann, who told him that she didn't think that was a good idea. MacLeod was arrested and taken to the Niagara Falls city lockup, and Nisbet said the passport was recovered at the home of MacLeod's mother on 30th Street later that night.
"A search warrant at my client's home yielded nothing," defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova said.
Nisbet said he made a video on his own cellphone of the portion of the questioning in which MacLeod wrote out his statement. Nisbet said the phone was in his shirt pocket and he didn't tell MacLeod he was being recorded.
Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said the video is 28 minutes long. Terranova said the video is hard to watch because the image jumps around and often obscured.
"The audio is clear," said Nisbet, who acknowledged he didn't stay in one place during the questioning. The video wasn't played Wednesday but presumably would be shown at the trial, if Murphy allows it.
Nisbet said no recordings were made before MacLeod began writing his statement.