LOCKPORT - With his astonished accuser looking on from the gallery, Robert E. MacLeod testified Wednesday that his confrontation at Niagara Falls State Park was with another woman, not the Japanese tourist who says MacLeod attacked and sexually abused her on Christmas night 2015.
Taking the stand in his own defense, MacLeod said the woman, whom he thought was Chinese, hit him first, out of the range of security cameras which show him repeatedly punching a woman outside the Maid of the Mist building.
MacLeod, charged with robbery, assault and sexual abuse, told Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann that the video is "not as accurate as you say it is."
He said he was trying to get away from a woman he thought might be armed.
"I feel very surprised," Koyugi Nakahara, the Japanese tourist, told reporters after his testimony. "I don't know why he didn't tell the truth. Yes, I'm sure he is the attacker."
Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III set closing arguments and jury deliberations for Thursday.
The Maid of the Mist video shows him punching the woman and walking away with her purse, then turning back toward her as the woman stands up, and taking her by the arm and leading her out of camera range. Nakahara testified Tuesday that the sexual assault occurred after that.
MacLeod said in court Wednesday that he went back toward the woman because "I felt bad that I hit her. I wanted to make sure she was OK."
Nakahara testified that MacLeod came back after she begged for the return of her passport.
Asked about the passport Wednesday, MacLeod said he didn't know how it got into his house.
"I've never seen it before," he testified.
Confronted with a recording of part of his interview with State Park Police Detective Brian Nisbet, in which MacLeod said he was "willing to give back her passport," MacLeod contended that he was giving a version of the case that he had worked out with Nisbet before the tape was turned on.
"He made a deal with me. He didn't uphold his deal," MacLeod told the jury.
He also denied signing a partial confession, even though he admitted he wrote out the rest of it longhand.
The statement pertained to the assault and the purse theft, not to the sexual abuse, which allegedly occurred in a dark area out of camera range. Nakahara said MacLeod removed her shoes and had her use her toes to rub his crotch.
Neither defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova nor Hoffmann asked MacLeod about that part of the incident.
'Fight or flight'
MacLeod said on the witness stand that he was taking a walk in the park when he heard a woman behind him say, "Excuse me."
"She said she needed help," MacLeod testified.
"Have you seen that person since?" Terranova asked.
"No," MacLeod said.
"So the woman who testified here (Tuesday), that wasn't her?" asked the defense attorney.
"I don't believe so," MacLeod answered.
MacLeod said the woman asked for directions. Nakahara said on the stand she wanted to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to see the falls from Canada.
MacLeod said, "I pointed down to the walkway going toward the Aquarium. I walked with her. She asked me to."
At the Maid building, "Apparently she was very agitated about something. There's a map there. I pointed to the map. I told her she could find what she wanted," MacLeod said. "She was looking at me funny. She was looking at me weird. I couldn't understand her. She got agitated again and struck me."
He said the woman hit him in the back with her hand. MacLeod said he tried to walk away, but she followed him.
"It was basically fight or flight," he testified.
Praise for police
He said he took the woman's purse because he thought she might have a weapon.
On the tape of his interview with Nisbet, MacLeod said the woman he saw was walking back and forth and he went to help her. On the stand, he said that wasn't true.
"So what you testified to on direct (examination) was a lie?" asked Hoffmann.
"You could look at it that way," MacLeod answered.
"We could, couldn't we?" commented Hoffmann, earning a rebuke from the judge.
During a break in MacLeod's 75-minute stint on the stand, Nakahara told a reporter, "I don't think he's telling the truth."
She agreed to have her name used when she gave an interview to The Buffalo News in May. The District Attorney's Office paid almost $2,000 in airfare and lodging costs to bring her here from Tokyo to appear before the grand jury in May, and a similar tab is expected for the county this week.
She said she doesn't think her experience in Niagara Falls will dissuade other Asian tourists from visiting the cataracts.
"I don't think so. I think they will be careful, maybe," she told reporters. "I think after my case, they will think American policemen are very efficient."