Cruise ship worker’s attack left passenger with devastating injuries




FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A cruise ship worker who sexually assaulted and tried to kill a sleeping passenger after hiding in her stateroom may face a tougher punishment because his crimes were so extreme and had a devastating effect on the victim.

The Valentine’s Day attack aboard Holland America’s MS Nieuw Amsterdam days after it left Florida’s Port Everglades has left the woman so psychologically traumatized and severely injured that her attacker deserves a long prison term, federal prosecutors say.

Ketut Pujayasa, 29, confessed soon after the bizarre attack and pleaded guilty to attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault. The maximum penalty is life in federal prison but sentencing guidelines — specific to his circumstances — suggest a sentence of 14 to 17.5 years, court records show.

In a memo detailing for the first time the lasting effect on the victim, Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Koontz suggested a more appropriate punishment would lie somewhere between 24 years and 30.5 years when Pujayasa is sentenced Jan. 7.

The Indonesian citizen, who was immediately fired from his job as a room service attendant for Holland America Lines, told FBI agents he tried to kill the 31-year-old woman, identified only by her initials in court records. He said he tried to snap her neck. He also choked her until she passed out and tried to rape her anally, he said.

He said he was trying to exact revenge because he believed the woman had insulted his parents on the morning of Feb. 13 when he went to deliver her breakfast. On his third knock, he said he heard her say: “Wait a minute, son of a bitch!”

Pujayasa should face a longer period of incarceration to protect the innocent and avoid any repeat of the devastation he inflicted on “a sleeping, defenseless female,” prosecutors recommended to U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who will make the final sentencing decision.

“The defendant’s trigger in this case was so slight and his anger so great it is impossible to determine or predict what other comments may trigger such a violent attack,” the prosecutor wrote in court documents filed this week.

Little has been revealed publicly about Pujayasa except that this appeared to have been his first crime. His lawyers, Assistant Federal Public Defenders Chantel Doakes and Joaquin Padilla, have declined to comment on the case and have not yet filed their sentencing recommendation.

Pujayasa did not confront the woman or report the alleged comment to his supervisors but said he fumed over it for about 17 hours and searched for her on the deck of the weeklong nudist cruise, planning to punch her in the face.

The deck was too crowded, he said, so late that night and while off duty, he used his master key to let himself into the woman’s stateroom, hid on her balcony and fell asleep waiting for her.

The woman returned around midnight, put on pajamas, lay down and fell asleep. She awoke when Pujayasa started choking her in the dark room.

The woman fought for her life with everything she had — screaming for help, hitting him, biting him and trying to stab him with a corkscrew. She was extremely lucky to survive his repeated attempts to kill her and, when that failed, throw her overboard from the balcony of the moving ship in the hope she would drown and her body would never be found, investigators said.

The woman was sexually assaulted, punched, beaten with a laptop and curling iron and choked with electrical cords before she escaped. Pujayasa said he panicked when other passengers banged on her door. Security video showed him escaping by leaping from balcony to balcony outside the ship.

The woman suffered brain injuries; fractures of her skull, face and spine; human bites and many other wounds and bruises.

The physical and psychological damage wrought by Pujayasa is still having a devastating impact on the woman 10 months later, and it is unclear if she will ever fully recover, prosecutors said.

She suffers from — and is taking medication to treat — post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, severe depression, insomnia, hypervigilance and obsessive-compulsive disorder, court records show.

“(She) has feelings of fear and helplessness and has both exaggerated startle responses and recurrent distressing thoughts of the attack. She requires constant companionship. She cannot be alone. Her husband and mother alternate spending time with her,” Koontz wrote.

The woman, who lives in an undisclosed part of the U.S., was a gymnastics teacher and accomplished aerial acrobat, prosecutors wrote, but is unable to work or enjoy life since the attack.

The head and choking injuries have left her performing below capacity on cognitive or intellectual functioning tests, investigators said. Her doctors say she will need medical care for a long time and it is unknown if she will ever fully recover.

“She continues to have flashbacks, sleep disturbances, problems with concentration, which has not only affected her career but has also caused stress to her marriage,” Koontz wrote.

While all sexual assaults and attempted murders are serious criminal offenses, the circumstances of this one were “even more egregious,” the prosecutor continued. Pujayasa’s behavior was so much “more heinous, cruel, brutal and degrading to the victim” that he should face a harsher penalty, prosecutors wrote.

“This is by far the worst and most terrifying of all attacks a woman can suffer. It was not until the victim lay asleep and helpless in bed that the defendant began his cowardly attack. The victim did not know the defendant and had done nothing to knowingly provoke him … The victim had to fight for her life and, but for her amazing strength, the defendant would have killed her.”



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