The parents of an innocent 21-year-old man who was murdered in South Auckland after being mistaken for a rival gang member are grieving after losing a son and their main source of income, the High Court in Auckland has heard.
Two Bloods gang members behind the 2019 fatal shooting of Samiuela Anania Tupou – known as Sam – in Ōtāhuhu were today sentenced to life imprisonment.
Janeiro Tapusoa, 28, pleaded guilty to murder one month before the three-week jury trial last year. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years and one month.
Leroy Tinei, 27, was found guilty of murder at trial, and has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 11 years and four months.
Tupou’s family attended today’s sentencing.
Tupou was shot and killed by Tapusoa early on Saturday, May 25 at Seaside Park, while he socialised with his cousin and friends. He was wearing a blue singlet, and blue is associated with the Crips gang, but Tupou was not part of any gang.
A member of rival gang Bloods, Tapusoa was on the hunt for Crips members – known as “searching for crabs”. Tinei was driving the car.
Tupou approached the car the two men were in. He was shot in the chest, top right thigh and back. The men fled in the car as Tupou fell to ground, where he died.
Crown lawyer Kristy Li said Tapusoa shot three bullets at close range from the passenger seat of the car. Tupou was understood to be half a metre away from the passenger window -a random, unarmed victim shot without any warning, she told the courtroom.
“I do not consider there was anything aggressive about Tupou as he approached the Mazda,” said Justice Walker.
The Bloods gang burned the car used in the killing at Kawakawa Bay, but police found the modified semi-automatic rifle, still loaded, in Tapusoa’s room six weeks later.
Defence lawyer Paul Borich QC said Tapusoa was suffering from the death of his father and of a fellow gang member at the time.
Tinei’s lawyer David Niven said his client was suffering from “completely dysfunctional parental relationships” but had a caring grandmother. His father was “very violent towards him” and Tinei travelled to Australia to reconnect with his mother but there was a very specific rejection. The impact is “described as the beginning of a downward spiral”, the court heard.
“He had a period of using a lot of alcohol and drugs and actively expressing suicidal thoughts culminating when he met up with his earlier friend Tapusoa and introduction into the Bloods gang, four months before the offence.
“Bloods accepted him, no questions asked,” Niven said.
“He is still supportive of the gang but he is turning towards his Samoan culture.
“Family have disappointed him, the gangs have failed him and the greatest chance of rehabilitation is through his culture, [with] which he has strong bonds.”
Tupou, who identified as Tongan, had recently returned with his family to live in New Zealand from the United States.
He was the sixth of seven children. In a victim impact statement read by Li, Tupou was described as a “kind hearted, friendly, gentle human being”.
His family outlined how he was the main income earner for his parents, and contributed to their church financial obligations.
Tupou’s parents had to move to emergency housing after his death because they could not afford rent. They suffer from medical conditions preventing them from full-time employment. Tupou was said to be proud of being able to provide for them at such a young age.
In a victim impact statement, Tupou’s sister said the death of the family’s youngest brother in America had already taken an emotional toll on the family before Tupou’s death.
“Sam was never the same. It hurt him so much to see how our mother hurt,” the courtroom heard.
“He worked hard and did household chores. Now her pain has doubled and it’s draining.”
The wider family of Tupou’s parents are sharing the financial burden, the courtroom heard, but it leaves them “nothing for a rainy day”.
Siblings are still hurting, cry often and seemed to have drifted apart, Tupou’s sister wrote in her victim impact statement.
“They say time heals but it can’t come quick enough.
“No words are enough to describe the kind of man Sam was and the pain we are in.”
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