Merri Creek rapist was just months out of jail when he attacked jogger – The Age

Merri Creek rapist was just months out of jail when he attacked jogger - The Age
By Emily Woods

Warning: Graphic and distressing content

A man who held a jogger’s head under creek water and repeatedly raped her had been released from prison months earlier after raping a 16-year-old girl.

Joel Russo, 28, pleaded guilty in Victoria’s County Court to rape, sexual assault and conduct endangering a person for a 2019 attack on a woman in Melbourne’s north.

Police at the scene of the Merri Creek attack in March 2019.

Police at the scene of the Merri Creek attack in March 2019.Credit:Justin McManus

He appeared in court via video link from prison for a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday, where full details of his criminal history were revealed.

The court was told Russo, who has an intellectual disability, was jailed in 2015 for five years for raping a 16-year-old girl in a park in Melbourne’s south-east.

Russo was released after serving his sentence at the end of July 2019.

On December 3 that year, he abducted a woman jogging along the Merri Creek Trail in Brunswick East and subjected her to hours of horrific sexual and physical abuse.

Judge Elizabeth Gaynor described that attack as “every woman’s worst nightmare”.

“To any woman this reads like a chamber of horrors,” she told the court on Wednesday.

About 7.30pm on the day of the attack, Russo grabbed the woman from behind and dragged her down a steep embankment towards the creek, prosecutor Jane Warren said.

“She clawed the ground to try to stop Mr Russo dragging her into the water,” she said.

Russo pulled her into the creek waters and told her to stop screaming. The woman believed he was trying to kill her.

He pushed her head under the surface of the water twice, before repeatedly raping her in the creek and some nearby bushes.

After the assaults, they walked to a nearby McDonald’s and Russo insisted on holding her hand.

He asked her if she would tell the police and if she would “visit him in jail”.

At about 10pm, the woman clutched a pole outside the McDonald’s as Russo tried to pull her away. He eventually left, and she asked someone at the store to call the police. Russo was later arrested trying to steal money and cigarettes.

The victim said she avoided spending time in nature and parks since the attack.

“There is no limit to the anger I feel knowing the most life-threatening risk I took was to go for a walk alone and to be a woman,” she said in a statement read to the court.

Warren said there was a high risk Russo would re-offend if he was released.

Russo’s barrister Tanya Skvortsova said her client suffered emotional issues stemming from childhood trauma and was admitted to a psychiatric ward two weeks before the attack.

Gaynor expressed frustration Russo had received little support after being released back into the community following his 2015 sentence.

However, she said the attack was “appalling, degrading and terrifying” and required a lengthy prison sentence.

Russo, who remains in custody, will be sentenced in April.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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