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Duo with links to Comanchero gang guilty over killing of Auckland man

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 28 Jun 2019, 2:41PM
Fisilau Tapaevalu, left, and Mesiu Tufuiare were charged with murder and attempted murder (Image / NZH)
Fisilau Tapaevalu, left, and Mesiu Tufuiare were charged with murder and attempted murder (Image / NZH)

Duo with links to Comanchero gang guilty over killing of Auckland man

Author
Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 28 Jun 2019, 2:41PM

Two men with links to the Comanchero Motorcycle Club have been found guilty over the execution-style killing of a young father and attempted murder of his wife.

Epalahame Tu'uheava and his wife Yolanda (Mele) Tu'uheava were both shot several times on April 30 last year in Māngere.

Tu'uheava, a 28-year-old father also known as Hame or Abraham, died within minutes.

But Yolanda survived by playing dead, despite being shot twice in the head with a revolver.

Police charged three men with murder and attempted murder, two of whom - Fisilau Tapaevalu and Mesui Tufui - were on trial in the High Court at Auckland this month.

Today, the jury returned its verdicts for the duo, who are cousins.

Justice Lang discharged the 11 jurors with the thanks of the community.

He issued both a first strike warning and remanded them in custody until sentencing in August.

Viliami Taani, also a cousin and a Comanchero member, was described by Yolanda as the "main guy".

He earlier pleaded guilty to both murder and attempted murder.

All three men will be sentenced later this year.

Epalahame Tu'uheava. Photo / Facebook
Epalahame Tu'uheava. Photo / Facebook

During the trial the court heard the hits on Tu'uheava and Yolanda may have been ordered from leaders of the Comancheros in Australia.

They had been given "green light to kill", the court heard.

Tu'uheava was shot along Greenwood Rd at least seven times, including three times in the head with a .22 calibre semi-automatic rifle.

While it may never be known exactly why the couple were shot, Crown prosecutor Claire Robertson said it "appears there was some bad blood between the Comancheros and Tu'uheava."

The court heard Tu'uheava had also began selling drugs after returning to New Zealand from living in Sydney.

In his police interview, Tufui said there was a "guy who's making money off the Como name and we're going to put him to sleep."

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.

She only survived, the court heard, by playing dead before being discovered by a passing motorist.

With a bullet still lodged in her head from the shooting, she also explained how her husband became involved in gang life.

The pair had moved from South Auckland to Sydney in 2014 to be more financially stable while raising a young child.

They lived in Australia until 2017, but while there, Yolanda said, her truck driving husband also developed a close association to the leadership of the Australian Nomads gang.

Mesiu Tufui, pictured on the first day of his trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Mesiu Tufui, pictured on the first day of his trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

After returning to South Auckland, Tu'uheava's contact with the Australian Nomads continued through social media, Yolanda added.

But Tu'uheava also took a liking to a new gang developing a foothold in New Zealand - the Comancheros.

"I guess he admired them," Yolanda said.

"I noticed he was watching these videos of the Comos with their bikes, all these flash things that they had, so he was trying to find a way to get a hold of them.

"He admired the material stuff they had."

Yolanda said her husband made contact with the Comanchero gang and maintained communications with them on social media.

Yolanda said she suspected her husband was involved in drug dealing when she found a bag full of cash as the couple travelled back from a trip to Invercargill.

There was some $48,000 in the carry-on bag, while $15,000 was in another bag, the court heard.

"You don't make that much driving [a] truck. It had to be something dodgy he was doing," Yolanda said.

Fisilau Tapaevalu was charged with murder and attempted murder. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Fisilau Tapaevalu was charged with murder and attempted murder. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Tu'uheava new gang connections led him to take the cash to what he thought was a meeting involving "some new guys" who were associates of the Comancheros, the court heard.

The group met Tu'uheava and his wife at a McDonald's in South Auckland before they later drove to Greenwood Rd in Māngere.

"They executed him," Robertson told the jury.

In a May raid last year, police found the revolver and rifle used during the shootings.

While recovering in hospital, Yolanda also identified Taani and Tufui as her offenders from a police photoboard, Detective Sergeant Tamaru Anderson told the court.

Tufui's lawyer Paul Borich QC, however, argued Yolanda made a mistake when identifying the alleged perpetrators.

He said Tufui wasn't on Greenwood Rd at the time of the shootings.

Sam Wimsett, Tapaevalu's counsel, contested that while his client accepted he was at the scene he "didn't do anything" and the decision to shoot the couple was Taani's.

Tapaevalu has earlier admitted to possessing the rifle and revolver.

He has also pleaded guilty to drugs charges.

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