Studio rape details too graphic to publish
There was a sharp intake of breath as the sentence for Anthony Sampieri was read out in court this afternoon.
The convicted rapist had barely made eye contact with anyone all day as he sat in a crowded courtroom for hours listening to the heinous details of the crimes he had committed in November 2018.
However, his head dropped, with his eyes fixed firmly on the floor, when Judge Paul Conlon told him he had been given life with no parole.
Australians have been horrified by the details surrounding the case that have been come to light over 15 months since he bound and raped a seven-year-old girl inside a Kogarah dance studio in Sydney's south.
Today however, details of the case deemed so horrific and dehumanising that they should be kept secret were read out in court for the first time over several painstaking hours.
Even the most hardened court reporters were left in tears by what they heard and, by the time they were outside, tissues were being handed out to dry their eyes.
Much of what Judge Conlon described was too graphic to publish and some details were so disturbing they elicited audible gasps from the public gallery as they listened in disbelief.
On the day of the attack, on 15 November 2018, the victim and her sister were driven to the dance studio at about 4pm and their mother returned two hours later.
In that time Sampieri had crept into the building. He made his way up to the male toilet on the second floor where he watched porn on his phone, masturbated and filmed himself before moving next door, to the women's toilets.
When the mother returned about 6pm, she walked with the seven-year-old girl a short distance to the library where they waited for the sister's class to finish.
The victim and the mother then walked back to the car, she drove out onto the street looking for a parking spot.
It was then the little girl said to her mum that she needed to go to the toilet.
The mother stopped at the front of the studio and the girl jumped out. She went upstairs and knocked on the dance studio door, but it was locked to avoid distractions.
Some of the students heard knocking and told the victim's sister who said it wasn't time to go yet.
The young girl then walked to the female toilet at the end of the corridor, where Sampieri was lurking.
He then pushed her into the cubicle and locked the door.
Tears began to fall in court as Judge Conlon described the horrific details of what happened next. A reporter could be seen having to walk out at one stage.
Quoting parts of a depraved five-minute video Sampieri made during the attack, the judge repeated haunting words the rapist said to the young girl and described the attack in horrific detail.
He described how the young girl could be scared to use a toilet, even in her own home, for the rest of her life.
The whole time in court, Sampieri, dressed in a green jumpsuit issued from Long Bay prison, sat with his head bowed and an emotionless expression on his face.
Jeffrey Stack and Nick Gilio both tried to stop the attack that day. They listened on and occasionally glanced at Sampieri as their partners wiped away tears during the reading of the facts.
The only time Sampieri seemed to react to any of this was when he was summoned to stand for the judge.
Suspense rendered the room silent before Judge Conlon delivered his verdict. Sampieri's head dropped as if he knew what was coming.
After a mammoth reading of the details, the words that came out of the judge's mouth seemed to freeze the room.
Mouths dropped open, there was a ripple of applause and the members of the public gallery turned to face and hug each other as they were ordered to stand up at the end of the hearing.
Usually stoic journalists firing off tweets and texts to their increasingly impatient editors looked stunned by what they had just heard.
A mass of people then gravitated towards the door of the court complex where an army of cameramen with heavy duty equipment barricaded the exit, waiting for Mr Stack and Mr Gilio.
Normally these cameramen are greeted with hostility and have to chase court attendees down the street in search of the perfect shot, but today the mood was altogether different.
It was like a weight had been lifted from the shoulders of the heroes who put their lives on the line to rescue the young girl.
Mr Stack and Mr Gilio approached us slowly with smiles on their faces. Justice had been served.
That mood changed when Mr Gilio pulled out a handwritten statement for the girl he called a "little dancer".
"It was an absolute honour to have freed you from the hands of evil," he said as he choked back tears. "I don't regret a single second.
"Today is your day for justice. Your day toward light and healing. My wish for you is that you grow to be a healthy, confident, strong and grounded young woman who is caring and compassionate towards others.
"Do not let this scar you. Do not let this evil break who you are. As for me, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of you. You are there for eternity and although I won't be there in presence, I will always send my love for you in spirit.
"You are now forever locked in my heart. You are my hero and you always will be. And, if we cross paths again, please know that it was only yesterday I thought of you."
It's not often you see seasoned court reporters cry. It's almost a prerequisite of the job that they should be detached and not let emotions stand in the way of their reporting.
But again, today was no ordinary day at the office. As Mr Gilio wrapped up, they wiped tears from their eyes and applauded.
They hugged the diesel mechanic. They told him how moved they had been by his words and his bravery in the face of such extreme evil.
It was like nothing I'd ever seen outside a courtroom after eight years on the job.
After a day where it was shown that human beings can be so cruel to one another, it reminded me that it's the good in people that will always win out.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.