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Quest for justice in Falls attack 'made me stronger,' tourist says

Koyuki Nakahara has seen two sides of America.

Thirteen months ago, the Japanese tourist was robbed, beaten and sexually assaulted as she went for a late night walk at Niagara Falls.

And on Friday, she watched and listened as her attacker was convicted on all counts.

Nakahara says she chooses to see the good side of this country and not just because Robert E. MacLeod will be going to prison when he is sentenced in March. She has become more trusting of others, including the people here who helped her following the attack.

[Man found guilty in assault on Japanese tourist at Niagara Falls State Park] 

“The bad always exists, but the good in life is always bigger. I chose to see the positive,” Nakahara said.

She traveled here twice from Tokyo, first to testify before a Niagara County grand jury that indicted MacLeod. And then last week to testify against him at his trial.

“This has been a turning point in my life. It has made me stronger,” she said.

In facing her attacker, identifying him and herself as a victim, Nakahara said she hoped that she has set an example for other women to seek justice.

Normally, victims of sex crimes are not publicly identified. She felt it was important to put her name out to inspire others.

“I felt proud of myself that I could do that,” she said.

[Defendant disputes security footage of attack on Japanese tourist]

Throughout the months of waiting for the trial, she said she found inner strength through self reflection and yoga.

“If this hadn’t happened to me, I would never have gone to India last November to take an advanced course in yoga meditation,” said Nakahara, who speaks fluent English, teaches yoga and works as a sales executive in Japan’s publishing industry.

She also spoke of the blessing of friendship, of how a friend accompanied her on this trip back to the United States to provide moral support.

And while she prefers to focus on the positives, Nakahara says she it was difficult to hear MacLeod testify that she was the attacker and that he was only striking back at her in self defense.

“When Mr. Zucco told me that MacLeod was going to testify that I attacked him, I asked, ‘Why would he say that?’” Nakahara said of a pretrial Skype conference she had with Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco

“Mr. Zucco said, ‘We never know what defendants are going to say.’ ”

Knowing that MacLeod intended to try to turn the tables on her, she said she became even more determined to seek justice.

It wasn’t easy.

A shy person, she had to overcome her embarrassment over the attack, which gradually vanished as she realized there was nothing to be embarrassed about. The same happened with her fear, though she is a more cautious person now, especially at night.

Christmas Night 2015

Nakahara was on a tour of the United States that had stopped in Niagara Falls on Dec. 25, 2015. She left her Falls hotel room late that night, wanting to make her way across the Rainbow Bridge to view the cataracts from the Canadian side.

When she lost her way, she asked a man for directions. That man was MacLeod. He volunteered to show her the way but after walking a distance with no signs of the illuminated bridge, she began to question him. That is when the attack occurred.

A surveillance video later showed him beating her. But at the trial, MacLeod claimed the first part of the attack occurred elsewhere and that she had assaulted him.

But there was other evidence. A second surveillance video from a nearby gas station placed him in the area around the time of the assault. Police said they believed he had been stalking her.

And there was her stolen passport retrieved from MacLeod’s 30th Street home in Niagara Falls.

All of that, Nakahara said, should have been enough to prompt her attacker to accept a plea deal from prosecutors.

“When they found my passport, I thought he had lost any excuse not to plead guilty,” Nakahara said.

But MacLeod - represented by two other lawyers before settling on Buffalo defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova - insisted on a trial and taking the witness stand to testify in his own defense.
Nakahara says that while she was at a “loss for words” over her attacker’s strategy, part of her was curious to see what kind of person would spin such a lie about her.

The trial

Her opportunity to see MacLeod occurred Tuesday, when she stepped into Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III’s courtroom and testified.

“I thought to myself, 'I can do this. I can tell the truth to everyone about what happened.' I focused on the lawyer who was talking to me. The last question I was asked is if MacLeod was in the courtroom.”

She said she then looked directly at McLeod.

“Yes, he is,” she responded and pointed at him.

When her testimony was completed, Nakahara spent the rest of the trial sitting in the courtroom as a spectator.

When the verdict was read, MacLeod listened with no visible signs of emotion. Guilty of robbery, sexually motivated robbery and sexual abuse.

Murphy revoked his $50,000 bail and scheduled sentencing for March 24.

On the other side of the courtroom, Nakahara  - surrounded by her friend and supporters -  quietly wept.

Her ordeal was finally at an end.

A thankful tourist

Nakahara says she has no plans to return for the sentencing and wants to move on with her life.

So with the trial concluded, she offered thanks to all the people who stood by her. They include, the prosecutors, Zucco and Doreen M. Hoffmann; the State Park Police, in particular Lt. Patrick Moriarty, and the witnesses who testified for the prosecution.

She said she was grateful to the gas station attendant who provided one of the surveillance videos and identified MacLeod. Authorities said MacLeod had stopped by the gas station, prior to the trial, and spoken to the woman in what was perceived as intimidation.

Nakahara and her friend headed to Toronto Saturday morning, driven there by Joseph Koessler, the honorary Japanese consul-general in Buffalo, and his wife, Kyoko, a native of Japan.

They intend to do some sightseeing in Canada and then fly home Wednesday. But before she left the Niagara County Courthouse Friday, she offered these final words:

“I traveled a total of 24,000 miles to hear one word, ‘guilty.’ I looked at the jury foreman as he said ‘guilty’ three times.”

News reporter Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this report

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