A UOW masters student and part-time waiter convicted of raping a work colleague has been sentenced to five years' jail, despite two female friends coming to his defence at his sentencing hearing, claiming he was "a gentleman" and that rape was "not in his nature".
Jessica Ainsworth and Vanlea Matthews told Wollongong District Court on Thursday their opinion of 24-year-old Indian national Mithun "Matt" Shanmugam had not changed despite him being found guilty of five sexual assault charges stemming from his rape of a female colleague after a boozy Christmas party in January 2019.
"He's a gentleman, he's polite, he's thoughtful, he's considerate," Ms Ainsworth replied when asked to describe Shanmugam.
"It [the rape] doesn't make sense. That's not Matt. He's not that type of person."
Ms Matthews described Shanmugam as one of her closest friends and "like a little brother".
"[The rape] doesn't fit within his morals or ethics, it's not in his nature," she said.
However, the court heard the victim had also consider Shanmugam a trusted friend before that fateful night of January 6, 2019.
The pair had been out at drinking and celebrating but returned to the woman's home, along with a heavily drunk friend, with all three falling into the victim's bed to sleep.
I thought he was my friend. Before the assault I was a confident, outgoing person....now I'm very closed off, and no longer in contact with anyone from the workplace where it happened.
At one stage, the woman woke to hear her friend vomiting in the bathroom and saw Shanmugam masturbating. He then rolled over and raped her.
She confronted him via text message the following day, eliciting a series of grovelling apologies.
Still, Shanmugam denied the allegations at his August trial, claiming he had an "apologetic" type of personality.
However, Judge Andrew Haesler found Shanmugam guilty of all five charges and gave a scathing critique of his performance in the witness box, labelling him an "unimpressive witness" who had given a series of "contrived" answers to police and the court.
In a statement delivered in court on Thursday, the victim said she was grateful Shanmugam was being held accountable for his actions.
"I thought he was my friend," she said, revealing the assault had had a profound impact on her ability to trust people and left her in counselling for 18 months.
"Before the assault I was a confident, outgoing person....now I'm very closed off, and no longer in contact with anyone from the workplace where it happened.
"I had to relocate out of my home, my safe space, where the assault occurred."
Meanwhile, the court heard Shanmugam had little chance of seeing his family in the near future given the travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19 and he would not be allowed to make international calls from jail to speak with them. He will also face deportation once his sentence expires.
Judge Haesler sentenced Shanmugam to five years' jail, with a non-parole period of three years, saying he knew what he was doing was wrong.
"His actions were not wanted and he well knew this," he said.
"After he serves his sentence he will return home to India in disgrace. His dreams of a life in Australia are ruined."
The Mercury understands Shanmugam's legal team will seek to appeal Judge Haesler's guilty verdicts in the Court of Criminal Appeal.