Woman testifies that she was brutalized in pasture

WAILUKU – A woman said she at first lied about knowing who tied her up, strangled her and repeatedly sexually assaulted her in a Haiku pasture last month because she feared her attacker and also was afraid of getting into trouble for using drugs.

But a few days later, after detoxifying from oxycodone, the 20-year-old Kula woman said she told a police detective the truth. Testifying Wednesday afternoon at a preliminary hearing in Wailuku District Court, she identified Philip Robbennolt-O’Connell, 48, as her assailant.

Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Coccaro asked the woman why she had lied to police officers the night of June 15, when she drove from the Haiku pasture to the Hana Highway intersection with Haleakala Highway at about 10:30 p.m. to report being raped.

“Because I was afraid he would kill me if I told anything and I was afraid about the drug use,” she said.

Deputy Public Defender Wendy Hudson questioned the woman’s account of being strangled, beaten, undressed and sexually assaulted, with some acts occurring simultaneously.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s possible,” Hudson said.

But Judge Richard Priest, making a finding of “great credibility” and “substantial credibility” in the woman’s testimony, ruled there was probable cause to support nine charges against Robbennolt-O’Connell.

He is charged with three counts of first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping, first-degree terroristic threatening, two counts of first-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault and interfering with reporting of an emergency.

Robbennolt-O’Connell is being held at the Maui Community Correctional Center in lieu of $647,000 bail.

The woman said she became addicted to oxycodone after being prescribed the narcotic painkiller for one year following a back injury while she lived in Washington state. She said she was introduced to smoking the drug after moving back to Maui.

She said she had been clean until again starting to use the drug about three months ago.

The woman said she had met Robbennolt-O’Connell once before, about a month before the attack, when she bought two oxycodone pills from him at the Haiku Cannery, and they had exchanged phone calls and text messages.

On June 15, she said she had smoked oxycodone in the morning and didn’t have any more pills when he called her at 8 a.m., asking for a ride so he could get some pills. Because she was at work, she said she couldn’t give him a ride. But they ended up speaking on the phone that night and she said she agreed to pick him up at the Paia Shell gas station.

Robbennolt-O’Connell showed up at the station at about 8:10 p.m., the woman said, and she drove him to the Wendy’s parking lot at the Maui Mall, where he got out of her truck and got pills from two men she didn’t know.

He gave her two pills and said he would drive. She said she thought they were going to drop him off as he drove up Haleakala Highway, through Haliimaile and into Haiku near Pauwela Cannery. But when she asked where he was going, “he said, ‘I know a good spot where you can smoke a pill’ and I said OK,” she said.

Robbennolt-O’Connell ended up driving two minutes down a dark dirt road off Hana Highway with no houses in sight, she said.

She said he turned off the ignition, keeping on a vehicle light and turning up the music to “full blast.”

Then, she said Robbennolt-O’Connell “hopped up almost on top of me and hit me in the face with his left hand in the right side of my face.”

“It was instantaneous,” she said. “It happened right as we parked. I was holding my phone in my right hand. I was up against the passenger side window. I was trying to open the door and get on the phone.”

She said the door was locked and Robbennolt-O’Connell tried to take the phone away from her. When she said she would call 911, “he laughed,” the woman said. “He said, ‘No, you’re going to f—ing get raped tonight.’ ”

Robbennolt-O’Connell was inches away from her face, she said, when he took the phone and put his hands around her neck. She said she couldn’t breathe as he shook her head and hit it against the window.

Then he began pulling off her pants, she said.

“I break his glasses. I’m fighting back,” she said. “Once I did that, I felt his aggression get 10 times worse.

“I feel like I’m going to die. I’m really scared and I know I can’t get out of the situation.”

She said Robbennolt-O’Connell flipped her onto the center console between the two bucket seats, pushing her head toward the floor. He put her hands behind her and tied them with what felt like a shoelace, she said.

At that point, she said the music wasn’t on and her pants were off.

She said Robbennolt-O’Connell began sexually assaulting her, also using an object that felt like wood. She heard rustling before he put a dark-colored plastic bag over her head and hit her hard on the back of her skull, she said.

Robbennolt-O’Connell held the bag, which she could see through, over her head while again strangling her so she couldn’t breathe, she said. “He’d let go, then tighten it again.”

Seeing that the back window of the truck was open, she tried to escape.

“That made him angry, so he put a knife against my neck,” she said.

She felt the knife moving on both sides of her throat. “He said, ‘Pray,’ ” she said.

She said Robbennolt-O’Connell was screaming as he said, “Are you f—ing praying?”

“He says, ‘Do you like it? Do you f—ing like it?’ ” the woman said.

Then he stopped, she said.

“It was like a light switch just snapped off, and he stopped everything.”

Robbennolt-O’Connell got out of the truck, putting her clothes in his backpack and taking his black 5-inch knife before walking away, she said.

The woman said she was crying and “curled up into a ball” in the passenger seat before finding her keys on the driver’s floorboard and driving away “as fast as I could.”

She stopped to find her phone behind the passenger’s seat, reaching her sister, then her older brother by phone. “I was hyperventilating,” she said. “All I could get out was I was raped.”

Her brother’s girlfriend called police, who met the woman at the intersection near Kahului Airport.

She said her brother didn’t believe her initial story about being raped by an unknown male who punched her in the face, opened her vehicle door and got in, using a hatchet to knock her unconscious while she was in the Wendy’s parking lot. She decided to tell the truth, she said, and was again interviewed by police Detective Richard Rodriguez on June 19 when she was sober.

“The reason I said unknown male, I was afraid, I was scared for my life,” she said. “The guy told me to pray and scared me completely. I thought I was going to die.”

She only knew Robbennolt-O’Connell as Phil but said she picked him out of a photo lineup.

During cross-examination, Hudson repeatedly asked the woman whether portions of her initial statement to police were lies.

“Yes, it was a lie and I’m sorry I lied, but I was afraid for my life – like I am now,” she replied.

Robbennolt-O’Connell – who is also known as “Crazy Phil,” according to the criminal complaint – is scheduled to be arraigned July 11 in 2nd Circuit Court.

He was ordered to stay away from the victim, her residence and workplace.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.