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More jail time for Killer Bee who fled prison van in motorway escape

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Sat, 13 Apr 2024, 12:25pm

More jail time for Killer Bee who fled prison van in motorway escape

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Sat, 13 Apr 2024, 12:25pm

Killer Beez gang member Zane KJ Hepi was on electronically monitored bail and living at the Grace Foundation drug treatment facility in November 2022 when he covered his ankle monitor in foil and absconded, using the next hour of freedom to commit an aggravated robbery. 

It wasn’t until months later that he briefly became the focus of nationwide attention when he was the subject of a large-scale manhunt after escaping from a prison van on an Auckland motorway. 

Hepi, 25, appeared in Auckland District Court for sentencing this week on the aggravated robbery charge. It was the latest chapter in a long history of offending and subsequent sentences, Judge Brooke Gibson pointed out. 

The judge ordered a sentence of four years and eight months’ imprisonment, to begin only after Hepi finishes serving his current prison term, imposed in August for two burglaries and other charges, including the dramatic escape. 

“There is a need to protect the community from you,” Judge Gibson added, also imposing a minimum non-parole period of 2½ years. 

Hepi was found guilty of the robbery charge in February after a short jury trial in which the victim declined to testify or participate. Authorities said Hepi had met up with two other Killer Beez members, all of whom disguised themselves in hoodies and masks before trying to intimidate a man who wanted to leave the same gang. 

The group demanded money and one of the man’s vehicles as they confronted him outside his garage. They then entered the home where his wife was working remotely so they could retrieve a key. Hepi drove off in the car the group wanted. 

Defence lawyer Robert Samuel offered no opposition to Crown prosecutor Liam Dalton’s suggested starting point of about 4½ years’ imprisonment but sought a reduction for his client’s traumatic childhood and youth. 

“As aggravated robberies go, there is a distinct lack of violence in this particular matter,” he pointed out, noting that no one was hurt. 

Zane Hepi committed an aggravated robbery after absconding while on electronically monitored bail. Photo / NZ PoliceZane Hepi committed an aggravated robbery after absconding while on electronically monitored bail. Photo / NZ Police 

He asked for an end sentence that wouldn’t be crushing for his client, leaving him without hope. 

“Well, it’s pretty hard [to impose anything considered crushing] in the New Zealand sentencing regime,” the judge retorted. 

He agreed Hepi’s sentence should be reduced somewhat for his “dysfunctional background” growing up in Kaikohe, Northland. It included the death of his father when Hepi was 4, use of methamphetamine and alcohol by the age of 10 and leaving school at 14 “effectively illiterate”. 

“You grew up in an area surrounded by gang-affiliated people, drugs and alcohol and lots of physical abuse,” the judge said. “It’s the only life you know.” 

But the end sentence needed to be extended because Hepi was on bail for matters out of Whangārei District Court at the time of the new offending and because of his extensive criminal history dating back to the Youth Court in 2012. The judge ticked off a long list of offences including other robberies, escaping custody, driving offences and assaults. 

“In other words, a complete criminal lifestyle,” he added. 

The escape the judge briefly mentioned happened in February 2023, three months after the robbery. 

Hepi and two other remand prisoners were being transported from Counties Manukau police station to Mt Eden prison in a Corrections van driven by two security officers on a Friday afternoon when they escaped near the Ellerslie-Panmure Highway off-ramp. 

“Each defendant was held in separate holding cells in the van,” court documents state. “The cells were individually locked by two bolts on the exterior of each cell door. 

“Whilst in transit to its destination, the prison van was travelling on State Highway 1 in Penrose. The defendants have somehow managed to unlock their cell doors and have subsequently exited out the prison van.” 

The prison van after three prisoners in separate cells escaped from it. The prison van after three prisoners in separate cells escaped from it. 

A witness told the Herald last year the men ran across the on-ramp, a few cars ahead of him. 

“Then I saw the [Corrections] van pulling over with the back door wide open,” he said. “I didn’t realise they were escaping until I saw the van, so just wondered why they were running across the road. 

“They looked pretty happy, though.” 

Another witness recounted to the Herald how Hepi – whom she didn’t know but identified by his extensive facial tattoos – tried but failed to hijack the vehicle she and her boyfriend were in. 

“Go, go, go, go!” Hepi allegedly yelled as he tried to get in the back seat. 

“I just had a full-on panic attack,” the woman recounted. “We were really scared. 

“I was fully paralysed and I didn’t know what to do.” 

The witness said the offender hadn’t closed the door when her boyfriend, who was driving, swerved into the truck lane and sped off, causing Hepi to fall out. 

“He couldn’t get the door shut and couldn’t get his legs in at that speed, so just fell out,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do, so we just kept driving. 

“The other two men just ran off on their own over the train tracks.” 

The trio had more success a short time later, stealing an SUV at a nearby auto repair shop and driving off. They eluded police for several days despite their dramatic escape attracting widespread attention. 

Hepi pleaded guilty to that charge and was sentenced in Kaikohe District Court in August to 18 months’ imprisonment. 

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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