Disgraced rugby league player Matthew Lodge has avoided going back to an American jail, an outcome that has paved the way for his NRL return and left his victims “obviously disappointed”.
Lodge, who represented Australia at youth levels, was sacked by the Wests Tigers after he embarked on a night of terror in New York in October 2015.
He first harassed two women and told them “this is the night you will die”, before assaulting a man who came to help and then breaking into his apartment, smashing it up while the good Samaritan’s frightened family hid in the bathroom.
Arrested at gunpoint, Lodge was charged with felony burglary causing injury and was facing a maximum of 25 years in jail – and a minimum of five – before making a plea deal with New York prosecutors last year.
Lodge entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanour count of reckless assault as part of the agreement.
On Tuesday (AEDT), Judge Kate Peak told Lodge he was a free man after meeting the requirements of the deal, which involved undertaking community service, and treatment for anger and alcohol management.
His release came despite a last-minute plea from the victims. Joseph Cartright, the man assaulted by Lodge, asked Judge Peak for the Australian to be punished for his “violent and horrifying conduct”, but his request was turned down.
Lodge is still the subject of a $A1.65 million civil lawsuit from Mr Cartright’s family and one of his female victims, for the pain, suffering and economic loss they claim to have suffered.
“Our clients are obviously disappointed,” Renan Varghese, representing the Cartright family and German tourist Carolin Dekeyser, told AAP.
“They had thought in light of the complete lack of remorse he has showed for his conduct, perhaps the court would have deviated from the plea agreement.”
The 21-year-old Lodge was not required to be in court for the sentencing. He received a conditional discharge.
He is now expected to return to the NRL, but initially has signed for the Queensland Rugby League’s Redcliffe Dolphins, a feeder club for the Brisbane Broncos.
In November, he told The Sunday Mail: “My initial goal is to do the right thing and play good football for Redcliffe, but I would love nothing more than getting back into the NRL.”
To avoid a one-year jail sentence, Lodge was ordered to complete 200 hours of community service in Australia, receive treatment for alcohol abuse and anger management, abstain from alcohol and illegal drugs, submit to testing and avoid another arrest.
How Lodge’s night of terror unfolded
Lodge, who is 193cm tall and 110kg, is said to have confronted Ms Dekeyser and a friend of hers at about 4am on October 16 last year.
In an affadavit, Ms Dekeyser said “a thickly-muscled, visibly intoxicated” man approached the pair, who were on holiday, when they got out of a cab in front of their New York apartment.
“Lodge began yelling after us, telling us that we should ‘come to Australia’ with him,” she said.
“Enraged when we refused to respond, Lodge chased after us, violently grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking me, and spinning me around so that I had to face him, all the while holding me with an iron grip so that I could not escape.”
He then told the women “this is the night you will die” before forcing his way into their apartment building.
Mr Cartright, who lived in the building, woke up and went to help the women, only to be grabbed in a headlock and punched in the face.
During the rampage, Mr Cartright’s wife and nine-year-old son hid in the bathroom, as Lodge allegedly tried to smash down the door and enter.
“Lodge then walked over to the bathroom door and punched it with such extreme force that he put a hole where my head was placed,” Ms Fowler previously said.
Lodge was then arrested.
Mr Cartright told the court his son has issues sleeping and socialising after the incident.
Lodge spent several days at the infamous Rikers Island jail complex after he was arrested.
In an August interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Lodge said he apologised to his victims and that “what happened wasn’t really me”.
– with AAP