An Anchorage cab driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger -- a case generated a public outcry -- was handcuffed and taken to jail on Wednesday after a judge raised his bail to $50,000.
Anchorage District Judge Bob Linton also set a condition that Chidiebere Norman Nwokorie, 43, be monitored by a court-approved third party.
The basement courtroom at the Nesbett Courthouse downtown was packed with other defendants as well as people there on behalf of Nwokorie, including his wife and other relatives. After the hearing, the group said they would have no public comment.
On Aug. 21, Nwokorie was charged with first-degree sexual assault and two other counts after a passenger fled his cab clutching her pants and naked from the waist down. She hailed a passing motorist and told the driver that the cabbie had tried to rape her.
At a hearing that day, Magistrate James Stanley set bail at $5,000 and didn't include a requirement for a third-party custodian. Nwokorie was released after just a few hours after putting up a fraction of the amount, with the rest guaranteed by a bail bondsman.
The woman who police say was assaulted told the judge she had wanted to object to his release beforehand, but the initial bail hearing happened without her even knowing. The woman, victim advocates and concerned individuals all have criticized the original bail amount and release terms.
Nwokorie is accused of taking the passenger to a remote cab service yard in an industrial area near Ship Creek and trying to rape her. He drove a leased Alaska Yellow Cab. A representative for the company that owned the vehicle said he was no longer driving one of their cabs.
Prosecutor Brittany Dunlop told Linton that the state had a strong case against Nwokorie and urged the judge to increase the bail, require a third party-custodian and take the defendant back into custody. The woman's version of events is supported by other evidence, Dunlop said.
Keri Brady, a former Anchorage district attorney who now is in private practice, is representing the passenger. Brady told Linton that the way bail was originally set violated protections for victims provided for in state law and the state Constitution. The victim had the right to be notified of the hearing and heard, Brady said.
The release was "unorthodox" and could cause people to lose faith in the justice system, the woman, on speaker phone, told the judge Wednesday.
Nwokorie told the judge that the police at the earlier hearing specified that he didn't have a record and that alcohol wasn't involved, indicating those were important factors.
Nwokorie is from Nairobi and has been in the United States six years. Dunlop wrote in her bail memorandum that the fact he has no record here isn't surprising given the length of time he has been in the country.
Linton followed the prosecutor's recommendations. He also appointed a public defender to represent Nwokorie.
As he was led out of the courtroom, Nwokorie shook his head and pursed his lips, his hands shackled behind him.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.