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Women tell of encounters with rape accused

A man charged with raping, choking and holding a jogger’s head under water at a Melbourne creek allegedly tried to get into other women’s cars nearby.

Joel Russo faces 13 charges of rape, three of sexual assault and two of reckless conduct endangering life along Merri Creek at Coburg on December 3 last year.

The 26-year-old is accused of repeatedly raping the woman as she jogged, choking her and holding her head under water.

Russo is also alleged to have entered and tried to enter two other women’s cars, respectively, as they left work in the same area that same day.

One of the women told Melbourne Magistrates Court she got in her car to drive home and the man hopped in the passenger side.

He seemed slow, his speech was “a bit off” and she tried to push him out.

She cried as she recalled the incident under questioning from Russo’s lawyer.

At the time the woman was in shock and “didn’t think it was a big deal”.

“When I got over the shock of it all I realised it wasn’t really OK,” she said.

The fact she’d heard about reports of a sexual assault in the area the same day encouraged her to report the incident to police.

Another woman recounted a similar story from that day.

She said the man asked her the time while she was inside her car about to leave.

She described her fear as he tried to open the locked door.

His speech was slurred and he seemed unsteady on his feet, the woman added.

It’s alleged Russo is the man who approached both women but he is not charged over either incident.

His lawyer Tanya Skvortsova unsuccessfully applied to ban media from reporting the women’s evidence.

Russo has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, an intellectual disability and an acquired brain injury.

He is also charged with two counts of attempted robbery from Carlton on the day of and the day after the alleged rape.

He remains in custody and is due back in court on Tuesday when a hearing to decide whether he stands trial continues.

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