Terra John Meehan bragged frequently about his supposed ties to organized crime, and claimed to trace his bloodline to the prolific East Coast hit man who had run Murder Inc. It had the ring of empty boasting from a man who lived by lies. Over and over, he spoke approvingly of a cold-blooded ethos: You went after their families. Terra Newell was Terra was a child of the upscale Orange County suburbs but adored country music, and she liked the songs about drinking beer, having a good time and loving God.
Terra at the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. For years, Terra had lived with a vague sense of dread. When she was around 6, she woke up screaming, believing that someone had climbed through her bedroom window to snatch her. Her parents were fighting a lot, and were soon divorced. Terra had frequent nightmares at that age.
In therapy she questioned whether the abduction memory was a real one, but became convinced it had actually happened. Early on, even before John became her stepfather, Terra sensed he was dangerous. She sensed that John was somehow watching her. She liked to have friends crash at her Newport Beach apartment so she would not be alone.
Once she had a dream that John was attacking her, and she had to stab him to save herself. She wrote out a note and put it in her drawer. If anything happened to her, it said, she wanted Jimmy to get Cash, the miniature Australian shepherd.
She was not a brawler and had no martial arts background except for a long-ago self-defense class in PE. She did, however, study television violence with uncommon intensity. They will keep trying to kill you until you destroy the head, by blade or screwdriver, machete or gun. She regarded the show as a fount of survival tricks.
She had spotted John in town last night. Terra acknowledged the warning, but her mind was elsewhere. Support our narrative journalism Hooked? Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times now to get more riveting stories like this with 8 free weeks of full access. She put on her rain boots and drove to work at the Newport Beach dog kennel. She greeted the Labs and terriers and Dobermans and poodle mixes. She unlocked the cages. She carried the big bag of dried, high-protein pellets to the bowls.
She hosed out the cages and the concrete dog-runs.
She had strong, round shoulders, strengthened by years of working with large, aggressive dogs. She left work in her Toyota Prius just after 5 p.
Cash was in the back seat. It was still full daylight. John Meehan had removed the license plate from the gray Dodge Dart he had rented. A set of kitchen knives. Terra pulled up to the Coronados, the sprawling block-long complex where she lived. People who lived there said it was common to overhear domestic fights and common to look the other way. The second floor lot at the Coronados where Terra parked.
She always parked in the same stall, SR She saw the Dodge Dart backed into a nearby stall, a man fidgeting in the trunk with a tire iron. She brushed it off, even when Cash growled.
She was eager to get to the concert. She had Mace in her car, pepper spray in her purse, a pocketknife in her apartment, and no weapon in her hands when she climbed out of the car. He had been formidably big, 6 feet 2 and pounds of steroidal muscle, a survivor of jail or prison cells in at least three states.
He had lost serious weight — he was down to — but Terra was still a foot shorter and 33 pounds lighter. He had the element of surprise. Women accusing men of rape take justice into their own hands - Fed up with official channels, Lauren Ingram took the law into her own hands, using social media to expose the identity of her alleged rapist.
Greens knew about Ingram rape allegations months before taking action - A man was employed to work on a Greens campaign despite many party members being aware of allegations he was a risk to women. I'm outside Kings Cross police station in Sydney waiting for year-old Lauren Ingram who's inside, giving a statement about her alleged rape.
It's the third time she's doing it. She was asked to come back to clarify something about consent. She doesn't really understand what this means. After a couple of hours, she comes out. That was very intense. Now things have become clearer to Lauren.
I had to go into a lot more detail about the assault. Essentially they said that the detectives in the first two statements hadn't gone into enough detail. So, for example, in the first statement I said things like 'and he held me down' and I had to go into a lot more detail of exactly how and exactly for how long and more detail about the actual assault. Lauren was here two years ago. It was May Back then she explained that she went to a boy's house, they flirted, there was kissing.
She agreed to have sex, but it soon turned aggressive and scary. She said stop, but he didn't. She left the next morning with bruises all over her body. Lauren went straight to hospital and then later to police to report the crime. The police investigation that followed dragged out.
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A major stumbling block was when a detective told Lauren that the hospital records from the time she was assaulted were gone. And she said that the hospital records had been destroyed, because essentially after a certain amount of time if the police don't request them, the records are destroyed.
So the investigation was going to be more difficult because that's a big piece of evidence if it was to go to court. And Lauren felt that not having the hospital records made the detective lose interest.
And then I hadn't heard from her in a while, and she sent me an email back saying that she'd been sent to work on another case for two months, so that there was nothing was happening with the investigation. Did you feel like she gave up on you?
Yeah, that it was just too hard now, too difficult, and so put to the bottom of the pile. That was the last contact I had, and then I heard nothing. Background Briefing can reveal that despite the claims from the detective, Lauren's medical records had not been destroyed. Hi, my name is Lauren, I was looking to get a copy of some records of mine.
I came into the hospital in Aprilbecause I was assaulted, and I was just looking to see if you still had copies of the records from when I came in.
Lauren is on the phone with a hospital staffer from the sexual assault unit. Essentially I had gone to the police and they had told me that they couldn't get the records anymore, even though I signed a consent form, and that the records had been destroyed. Someone suggested to me that I call and check because it shouldn't have been destroyed.
The hospital staffer confirmed to Lauren in this conversation that her medical records, all of them, still exist, and that in fact the police have already requested and got what they need for their investigation. She explained that the hospital is required to keep records indefinitely. Regardless of anything, I would be able to get a copy of my own records? I have no words about that.
This experience made Lauren question the police. As we'll soon discover, Lauren will become the centre of a rape shaming controversy. She will become a vigilante and take matters in her own hands, naming her alleged attacker in public. I was right to just name him and do my own thing because going through this process isn't going to result in anything and is only going to keep traumatising me for more years to come.
A few weeks ago when Lauren named her alleged rapist on Twitter, she said it was a former staffer of the New South Wales Greens.
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Lauren's tweet went viral. Do you see that as an act of vigilantism? Yeah, I guess it almost is. It's almost like taking back the power, taking back whatever you can to push against the system that isn't working.
And saying if your way isn't going to work than we're going to go our own way to try and make a difference, and it's almost like a little act of power and resistance. This little act of power and resistance is hugely troubling to Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett. She heads the New South Wales sex crimes squad. We don't want victims taking matters into their own hands because at the end of the day it's not really going to achieve a lot.
It might make the victim feel a little bit better out when they've run it on social media but it's probably their fifteen minutes or fifteen seconds of fame, and at the end of the day I'd rather an offender get arrested and charged and put in jail for a long period of time.
Linda Howlett says rape shaming is dangerous for victims whose cases might end up in court. It could have had the potential to compromise the evidence that could be obtained, so we certainly don't want that, because the other thing we certainly don't want is for that social media comment to be out before a judge and jury because it could place doubt on the actual circumstance of the investigation or anything the victim might say.
And at the end of the day, I want to stress it's the victim here that should be supported and encouraged to come forward.
At the end of the day they are the victim, not the offender. And what about from a police perspective, do you think that naming alleged rapists could hurt the police investigation? So until a person is actually convicted, they are innocent in the eyes of the law of the offence, that particular offence Hagar Cohen: And why is that so important from your perspective?
Because justice has got to be seen to be done. But the young women I interviewed who have been sexually assaulted aren't sympathetic to Linda Howlett's position. They think rape shaming is a great idea.
I would love for people to know who he is and have that be a horrible time for him. Because he took so much power from me, it would be nice to take some back. I am part of the secret underground feminist mafia that is telling all the women I know who the shitty guys are.
I tell them, I tell them about who the bad guys are, who the rapists are. And many of the women whose cases did go through the courts now regret it. I regret the trauma. I regret what's happened. I regret that the system has just failed me and the other victims so much, so profoundly. I'm horrified that I know this. I feel like I know something that I really shouldn't know and didn't want to know. I didn't want to know that the police that we trust to protect us, don't!
That was year-old Sarah Gatta. Her ordeal began 20 years ago when she started feeling anxious about the man she was dating. Then I made the decision later I didn't want to see him anymore.
So then he continued to call me and harass me, he was calling me at home, he was calling me at my university campus. And I asked him to leave me alone, I said I didn't want to see him anymore, and he just kept harassing me and basically told me that unless I came and saw him face-to-face he would never leave me alone.
That morning, Sarah visited this man's apartment. Despite her fears, she thought meeting him face-to-face would be the only way he'd stop contacting her. Climbing the stairs she made a pact with herself. She would say it was over. She would make him understand it was over, once and for all.
But that morning, she says, he raped her. I went to his apartment to confront him and make him leave me alone, and at that stage there was a violent attack against my will. And I said no and I screamed and I hit him, and he restrained me. I kicked him, I hit him, I did everything to fight him off, I just wasn't strong enough. When I left I yelled at him, 'You raped me!
I called the police, they took me to the hospital and I made a statement. Then at that time as well the police made an application for an AVO because I'd said that I felt threatened by him, that he'd been calling me and pursuing me. The police served the AVO on him.
It would have maybe only been a couple of hours and then he actually called my house where I was on the central coast. My mother told him, 'You're not to call here,' hung up, and then reported it to the police. In the end the police didn't press charges for rape. Sarah now believes she knows why. She says a lawyer from the Department of Public Prosecutions told her it was because of a statement from one of the witnesses in her case claiming Sarah was a liar and promiscuous.
Background Briefing has seen this statement from a female friend. She said that she…not even that she'd witnessed it, but that she had heard that I was promiscuous and that I slept around. So there were a lot of factual inaccuracies that the police never bothered to actually cross-check or reference. They just flat-out believed her statement. Sarah was gutted her alleged rapist escaped charges. But there was nothing she could do about it.
A lot of counselling, a lot of tears, a lot of pain, a lot of difficult relationships. But look, eventually I met a man, fell in love, had a baby. Soon after having the baby, and 16 years after her alleged rape, she got a phone call. I'd come into the city to meet my friends for lunch and to introduce my son. I'd gone in to the parents' room in Westfield to go and feed him.
I received a phone call from a detective asking me if I remembered making a complaint in about [beep]. Lucky I didn't drop the baby. I said I remember of course. He proceeded to tell me that there'd been three other DNA matches to other victims, and that they were now going to be mounting a case against him, and would I be involved?
Was I prepared to back my statement and be a witness again? And at that time I said absolutely, whatever you need me to do to bring this man to justice. He has to go to jail. It's awful that there are four victims now. But we now have an opportunity to all get together and there's no way that they wouldn't believe us.
They had to believe us.
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He would go to jail. Sarah couldn't contain her excitement. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? The truth is, for the next three years, Sarah would be involved in a lengthy and traumatic legal process. Instead they were going to split them up. The jury wouldn't hear about him allegedly doing this to other women. I had been doing this on the belief that the trials would run together, that I would be testifying alongside these other women, the jury would then hear about him being a serial offender.
Then I was then told that actually no, legally they had to separate all the cases, and the jury were not allowed to hear…even if he was charged and convicted, they were not allowed to hear about any other offences. And I was shocked. After some time to think, Sarah agreed to press on regardless. But the second blow arrived when she claimed the police told her that her original police file from was accidentally destroyed, together with the old apprehended violence orders or AVOs.
I was told at the time that AVOs are destroyed after 7 years, and my sexual assault complaint was accidentally attached to my AVO, and the whole thing destroyed. However, we've not been able to find any destruction order records. She says she was instructed by her lawyer not to mention them in court.
I was told prior to going in to testify that there were things that I was not allowed to mention from my statement. I was not allowed to discuss the AVO at all.
No one would question me on it and I was not to bring it up, otherwise it could potentially cause a mistrial, despite the fact that it actually would have given me some evidence at least to my claim that he was stalking and harassing me. What happens next is complicated. The first trial was aborted due to police incompetence and a whole bunch of missing files. And because of the way the police mishandled the case, Sarah was made to go through the whole trial process, including the cross-examination, twice.
They stop treating you like a victim. They don't respect you like a victim.
And you feel like a victim, you are a victim, but they don't treat you like one. You are a police witness. There's little respect shown, there's little compassion.
I know I'm a victim because I'm sitting there and I'm telling this horrific tale and it's so personal and so intimate and gory and embarrassing, just quite frankly embarrassing. Having to stand in a public setting and talk about my genitalia in detail is demoralising. In the end, the man standing trial for the rapes of three women was acquitted. Three separate trials had failed to get a conviction, including in Sarah's case.
It was 'not guilty'. The jury gave it less than about two hours consideration.
People's idea of what consent is…it's difficult. But he's been found not guilty on everything. Sarah felt that the police had sabotaged her slim chances of justice. She decided to put in a Freedom of Information request, or FOI, to get her police file and use it to lodge a formal complaint. But I didn't want to lodge that complaint with the police commissioner and various bodies until I actually did an FOI request on my file because I felt like things would probably go missing again if they knew that there was a complaint in the wings.
So I put in that request. A bit over two months later, she was finally notified that her FOI had been successful. She opened the email. In it was a half-typed, half-handwritten document. Apprehended Domestic Violence Order.
The AVO that had been destroyed? The AVO that was apparently destroyed and no one could find it. And couldn't be relied on in court. There it was, staring at me. Yeah, I was horrified. Here's this AVO that for years I've been told doesn't exist, it can't be found. So I have got all of this in writing, all of these things that apparently don't exist. Everything that we went to trial without. How did you feel? There's no way of knowing whether that would have changed the outcome.
I do seriously feel that if the jurors knew that I had an AVO against this man, then he wouldn't have been able to shoot down or discredit me, and my genuine feeling of fear of this man and that I felt that I was being harassed and stalked by him. There was an AVO that would suggest that yeah, I legitimately was scared of this man.
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Sarah has now lodged a formal complaint against the NSW Police. She says she was scarred by the process, and with nothing to show for it. There is nothing that the system provides right now that would ever tell me that it's a safe place for a victim to go. So what's the alternative?
I probably shouldn't say, it's probably quite criminal! At the time of Sarah's alleged assault there were serious problems with how police dealt with rape victims, that's according to the head of the sex crimes squad Superintendent Detective Linda Howlett. And I'll be the first to admit perhaps our policies and procedures weren't that great back then, but we've really changed, we've really gone to a great deal of effort to educate our detectives.