ACT News

Indigenous artist Dennis Nona guilty of raping 12-year-old girl, leading to pregnancy

Guilty: Dennis Nona.
Guilty: Dennis Nona. Photo: Getty Images

A celebrated indigenous artist has been found guilty of two acts of indecency in addition to raping a 12-year-old girl while he was a student at the Australian National University.

Dennis Nona, 41, from Badu Island, about 60km north of Thursday Island, was on Thursday found guilty of having sex with the girl in her home in April 1996.

Standing before a jury in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, Nona  was also found guilty of another count of rape and two acts of indecency that occurred when two children were in the backyard of a Canberra property.

This is the second time Nona has faced trial for the charges after an issue with directions given to the jury led to a retrial.

Nona was flown around the world to teach his distinct style to admirers and his work was hung in leading galleries. He won several accolades and awards, including the 2007 Telstra Indigenous art prize.

But behind the success was a dark history of sexual abuse of a teen girl, which has been heard in the ACT Supreme Court during the past two weeks.  

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The girl, who cannot be named, came forward in 2010 after DNA results indicated Nona was the father of her unborn child, which was terminated 22 weeks after conception.

In her closing submission, crown prosecutor Margaret Jones told the jury this was not a case of a young girl developing a crush on an older man, but "a sad case of the accused taking advantage of a vulnerable little girl".

The girl was found to be pregnant later that year. The girl's pregnancy was not discovered until police were called to the house for an unrelated matter and her pregnancy was terminated 22 weeks after conception.

Ms Jones said the girl was too scared to tell her mother about her pregnancy and that she was trying to protect a man she had an "abnormal attachment" to.

While in the witness box, Nona told the jury the girl confessed to once having had sex with him while he was passed out at her house after two days of binge drinking without food.

He said after waking, the girl approached him when they were alone and said: "I want to tell you something but you're not allowed to tell mum - I had sex with you last night."

Nona told the court his body turned cold and he wanted to leave the house immediately and asked her: "Why did you do that? You're going to get me into big trouble."

But Ms Jones said the jury should dismiss this confession as a lie, because it would have required a young girl to undress a grown man, have sex with him without his knowledge, and then sneak away.

In his closing submission, Nona's defence barrister, Shane Gill, said the girl had been sexualised from a young age and had developed a crush on Nona, once saying that she loved him.

Earlier this week, Nona told the court from the witness stand the girl had tried to kiss him once in the lounge of her home but he had pushed her away when she got close.

"It felt like she had a crush on me," he said.

Nona told the court the girl would hug him and sometimes he felt she was hanging on too long.

Chief Justice Helen Murrell thanked the jury members for their service in what she described as a difficult and challenging trial.