22 August 2023

Man charged over alleged historical sex assault in Wagga after DNA evidence breakthrough

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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In 2021, the NSW Police Sex Crime Squad established Strike Force Erang to reinvestigate an alleged sexual assault case from 1991 in Wagga Wagga. Photo: File.

A Victorian man has been charged after allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the Riverina more than 30 years ago.

A 16-year-old girl was approached by two unknown men while walking along Docker Street in Wagga Wagga at about 3:30 am on Sunday, 28 April, 1991.

Police said the men offered to walk her home before they allegedly grabbed the teenager and pushed her to the ground.

She was allegedly punched in the head before being sexually assaulted by both men.

The pair fled the scene on foot a short time later, and officers attached to the then Riverina Local Area Command began an investigation but no arrests have ever been made.

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In 2021, detectives from the State Crime Command’s Sex Crimes Squad established Strike Force Erang to reinvestigate the case following technological advancements to analyse DNA profiles.

After extensive investigations, strike force detectives and Victoria Police arrested 53-year-old Michael Darmenia in East Melbourne last week (16 August).

The accused was charged with inflicting actual bodily harm with intent to have sexual intercourse with the victim and two counts of aggravated sexual assault in the company of another person.

He was refused bail and appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where he was granted conditional bail, and reappeared at Parramatta Local Court on 21 August.

Magistrate Rodney Brender granted Darmenia bail on the condition that he must not go near or contact, or try to go near or contact, any prosecution witness except through a legal representative.

Darmenia must not apply for a passport, not attend any point of international departure and not travel interstate, except between Victoria and NSW to attend court.

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Sex Crimes Squad commander Detective Superintendent Jayne Doherty said the technological advancements in genetics had made the arrest possible after more than three decades.

“Since 2021, investigators have reviewed and re-analysed intelligence, statements and forensic evidence, which subsequently provided the breakthrough we needed to further those inquiries,” Det Supt Doherty said.

“We want victim-survivors to know that detectives will not stop when investigating old matters; we will continue to use new technological capabilities to provide answers to victims.

“It’s important to report sexual assaults to the police so vital physical evidence can be preserved.”

Investigations under Strike Force Erang are continuing.

Magistrate Brender set Darmenia’s next court appearance at Parramatta Local Court for 19 October.

Anyone with information that may assist Strike Force Erang investigators is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online.

Information is treated in strict confidence. The public is reminded not to report information via NSW Police social media pages.

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