The “main guy” in a South Auckland execution-style killing that may have been ordered by the Comanchero Motorcycle Club’s top brass has been jailed for life.
Viliami Taani was today sentenced in the High Court at Auckland to life imprisonment by Justice Anne Hinton.
He will serve a minimum period of imprisonment of 17 years and six months. For attempted murder he was sentenced to 11 years and two months, which will be served concurrently.
Taani had shot Epalahame Tu’uheava and his wife Yolanda (Mele) Tu’uheava several times on April 30 last year in Māngere.
Justice Hinton said there had been a high level of callousness and brutality shown in the shooting.
“I agree this was an execution-style killing.”
The fact Yolanda survived “was nothing short of miraculous”, she said.
“It is difficult to imagine a more serious attempted murder. You could hardly have done more to ensure that Mrs Tu’uheava died.”
The couple had been lured to Greenwood Rd under the pretence of a drug deal before being gunned down.
Epalahame, a 28-year-old father also known as Hame or Abraham, died within minutes after being shot at least seven times, including three times in the head with a .22 calibre semi-automatic rifle.
But Yolanda survived by playing dead, despite two shots to the head with a revolver.
Police charged three men, who are all cousins, with the murder and attempted murder – including Taani.
The other two, Fisilau Tapaevalu and Mesui Tufui, went to trial in the High Court at Auckland last month.
The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts for the duo, who have links to the Comanchero Motorcycle Club.
Taani, also a Comanchero club member, was described by Yolanda during the trial as the “main guy” in the execution-style killing.
He had pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder a week before Tapaevalu and Tufui went to trial.
During the trial the court heard the hits on the pair may have been ordered from leaders of the Comancheros in Australia.
They had been given the “green light to kill” Epalahame, who had an association with the Australian Nomads club, the court heard.
Yolanda, who was shot at least four times, testified in the trial via video link from an undisclosed location.
It is understood she has been in witness protection.
On April 30, at a late-night meeting she saw Taani pointing a gun at her husband.
She looked outside her passenger window where another man was pointing a firearm at her, ordering her out of the vehicle.
They were first made to stand between the two cars while guns were pointed at them but they attempted to run away while being shot at.
They were then ordered into a bush, where Yolanda covered her head with her arms.
She was shot twice in the arm, and again she and her husband tried to run for cover.
One of the trio approached Yolanda and she was shot twice in the head with a .38 revolver pistol.
“She fell to the ground but was still conscious,” Justice Hinton said.
She could hear her husband calling her name. As he tried to run away, Taani shot him twice in the side of his body with a .22 calibre rifle.
Taani then walked up to Epalahame and shot him again twice before again shooting at Yolanda.
The three men then went to Tapaevalu’s address in Māngere where they put the cellphone that had been used to contact Epalahame into a fire.
It wasn’t until about 6am the next day that a passing motorist saw the Tu’uheavas on the side of the road and called emergency services.
Surgeons extracted one bullet from Yolanda’s head but another had to remain because it was “too dangerous” to remove it, Justice Hinton said.
According to her victim impact statement, she suffered constant headaches and her vision was deteriorating meaning she required glasses permanently, she said.
“And in what must be a significant understatement ‘her life is not the same’.”
She can not work because of her injuries and her benefit left her with just $20 at the end of the week after expenses, she said.
“She writes that not a day goes past that she does not think about what happened.
“She has PTSD. She cannot sleep.”
But she is grateful to be alive because she does not know how her son would have coped without his parents.
Her son still wore his father’s clothes and looked at his picture often, she said.
Justice Hinton said Taani, who was raised in a strict Christian household, had written to the court saying he accepted full responsibility for what happened and would change things if he could.
“It seems you lived something of a double life,” she said.
Taani was a patched club member but his fiancee and family said they had no knowledge of that, Justice Hinton said.
“You say you shielded your family from your life in the club.”
His family described Taani as “the kindest and most caring person” and could not believe what he had done.
“They describe how you have been a full-time carer for sick family members.
“They say how drastic the consequences of your actions are for your loving family and children.”
Taani had expressed some remorse to a pre-sentence report-writer, she said.
“You said, ‘The deceased’s children will have to live without a father and I have to live with that’.”
However, Justice Hinton said she was not convinced Taani truly comprehended Yolanda’s suffering before she sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Days after Epalahame Tu’uheava assasination, one of those responsible was elevated to a prospect of the Comanchero Motorcycle Club.
The footage shows Fisilau Tapaevalu, who was found guilty of murder and attempted murder at a High Court jury trial, being handed his “top and bottom rockers” by a club member.
Source: NZ Herald