A Sydney lawyer has been found not guilty of sexual assault, after his barrister told a jury the alleged victim exaggerated and embellished the details of a consensual sexual encounter.
Steven Mercael, 29, faced trial in Parramatta District Court accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a western Sydney office in December 2019, after the pair had spent the evening drinking and consuming cocaine.
Not guilty: Lawyer Steven Mercael outside court this month.Credit:Kate Geraghty
The woman told police that Mercael kicked her legs out from under her, slapped her across the face, dragged her by the hair and forced her to perform oral sex on him, as she said: “please stop, let me go”.
Mercael denied that this occurred, saying the woman had performed oral sex consensually.
On Tuesday, a jury of six men and six women found Mercael not guilty of aggravated sexual intercourse without consent, after deliberating for four hours and five minutes. He was also acquitted of an alternative charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
In closing arguments, Mercael’s barrister Margaret Cunneen, SC, said it had been claimed that her client turned into a “violent sexual monster” after spending hours drinking and socialising with the woman.
She said the location the pair had been drinking in did not have a toilet, and the woman could have left at any time by saying she needed to use a toilet nearby.
Cunneen said the woman gave an account to police that was “false and misleading in numerous ways”, including failing to disclose an intimate relationship with another man who gave evidence in the trial.
The barrister said the sexual encounter between the woman and Mercael “happened organically” after it was initiated by the woman, and the alleged sexual assault “never took place”.
“Mr Steven Mercael is not a rapist,” Cunneen said.
“There is a different, credible story and it’s obvious – and I think it’s clear to you – that Mr Mercael’s version of events is much more credible and much more likely in all the circumstances of this allegation.”
Cunneen said even though her client consumed a drug that night, and was engaged to be married, “this isn’t a court of morals”.
“You’re not here to decide whether someone’s committed a sin or done something that morally might be not right,” she said. “You’re here to decide as judges whether a crime, a very serious crime, has been committed.”
Crown prosecutor Sylvie Sloane said in her closing address that it was clear the complainant did not consent, including the woman’s evidence that she told Mercael “you’ll have to kill me”.
“She was brought to her knees by a manoeuvre by the accused,” Sloane said. “While she was on her knees, she was effectively restrained by the accused. He had hold of her hair.
“She tried to push him away with both of her hands; he slapped her. He slapped her on a number of occasions. Each time she tried to move her head away she was slapped.”
The court was read text messages between the woman and Mercael shortly after the alleged assault, where Mercael said he was “bored” and “don’t know why you left so quick”.
The woman responded that she was in a car and was almost home, writing at 1.45am: “Steven, that wasn’t consensual.”
Mercael responded: “Huh.”
Cunneen told the jury that her client’s phone had been tapped by police, and he maintained his innocence, at one stage saying: “I’m telling the truth. I know I’ve done nothing wrong. The court will deal with it.”
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