Teen's aimless life leads to senseless murder

By Myles Hume

Two years ago a teenager slashed the throat of his stepsister. This week he started a long prison sentence for her murder. Myles Hume reports

Bronson Kelekolio was sentenced to life in prison for killing stepsister Sina Solomona. Photo / The Press
Bronson Kelekolio was sentenced to life in prison for killing stepsister Sina Solomona. Photo / The Press

Evidence that led to Bronson Kelekolio being identified as the killer of Sina Solomon - a crime for which he was this week sentenced to life in prison - was overwhelming, the police detective who headed the case says. Before this week's sentencing in the High Court in Christchurch, reporter Myles Hume sat down with John Rae to talk in-depth about the murder, how it unfolded and how it was solved.

A knock on the door scares Malia Kelekolio and her aunty in their 43 Aitken Street property.

Who could possibly need them at almost 3am on a Saturday?

At first they refuse to open it, then they recognise the voice.

Malia opens the door for her teenage brother, 15-year-old Bronson Kelekolio.

He stands on the doorstep, covered in blood, short of breath.

Come quick, she's told, someone has hurt Sina.

The uncharacteristic panic of the Ashburton teenager strikes a nerve with Maria and her aunty.

Fearful as to what's happened to the 22-year-old woman who she has grown to know as her stepsister, they hurry to Sina Nerisa Solomona's Cass Street address, less than 300 metres away.

They pass Tommy Kelekolio's black Honda that has been parked on the lawn for weeks. Stuffed underneath Kelekolio and Malia's father's car in overgrown grass lies a knife handle and a serrated knife, wrapped in a bloodied checked bush shirt.

A sealed path runs along the side of the house, leading to the back door that's been left ajar.

Inside the back door corridor of the rented home they find Sina in a pool of blood with her pants around her knees.

Sina is barely recognisable. Her head and face had been stabbed multiple times and her throat slashed.

Amid the chaos, a distressed Kelekolio rushes to Sina, drops to his knees and holds her head. He speaks to her, seemingly hoping for a sign of life.

Meanwhile, Malia finds the nearest power point and plugs in her phone charger. She dials 111 and rings for an ambulance, which is dispatched in minutes followed by Ashburton police; the station situated just 450m away.

Following a description of the horrifying scene to the operator, Malia is given advice on CPR, an act she continues on an unresponsive Sina out of sheer desperation and despair.

During those frantic moments, Malia uses a towel to cover her stepsister's pubic region, attempting to conserve her dignity.

Ashburton police arrive at the scene, closely followed by the paramedics.

They enter to find Malia still trying to revive her stepsister. After a quick check for danger, police take over CPR until the paramedics arrive and check for signs of life.

Sina is pronounced dead at 3.05am December 15, 2012.

Homicide scene

The family home became a homicide scene in the hours following the death.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae, of Papanui, took charge, assisted by Ashburton's Detective Sergeant Jennifer Hooke as the second in command and file manager Detective Sean Millington.

The street was cordoned off and neighbours were caught in the middle of an unfamiliar scene.

Their homes became exhibits for rubberneckers as they were thrust under the media spotlight.

To the naked eye murder was the obvious cause of death for the detectives. The blows to Sina's head and the blood splatter on the walls indicated this was a direct and personal attack.

Kelekolio, who raised the alarm, is in shock in the hours following Sina's death.

A key suspect from the outset, he is taken to the Ashburton Police Station, but he appears overwhelmed by the horror.

He is in no fit state to speak and the officer dealing with him calls for an ambulance to transport him to Ashburton Hospital.

That night

Rewind a few hours and Friday night, December 14, 2012, is shaping to be no different to any other for Bronson Kelekolio.

He is free to roam, he has little responsibility and there seems to be little parental concern about where he goes or who he's with. He only really has to answer to someone when things go wrong.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Kelekolio leaves his Aitken Street home heading to 111 Cass Street where his father Tommy lives with his partner Anuella Solomona and her four adult children George and Richard Ioapo and Loretta and Sina Solomona. Loretta's partner Tara and Sina's daughter Kaira also live at the address.

Sina, who has lived in Ashburton since 2002, is a hard-working bubbly young woman who enjoys a busy life with friends, family and her young daughter.

Kelekolio meets Tara, who is there to collect some equipment for a family birthday party. It is almost 2am.

Elsewhere, Sina, her CMP Canterbury workmate Penrose Poriomaka and another colleague are on their way home from a night shift when they are stopped by police on Walnut Avenue.

A drivers' licence complication means they are ordered to drive directly to Penrose's place, where Sina texts Tara, asking him to pick up her and her workmate.

With Kelekolio tagging along, Tara heads to Penrose's house and drops Sina's friend off at Willow Street.

Tara and Kelekolio then drop Sina off at Cass Street. Realising she would be alone, Tara asks if she wants him to come in, but she doesn't mind. He drops Kelekolio at his Aitken Street home, which he shares with his sister Malia and his aunt, before continuing on to join other family members at a house in Allenton.

Kelekolio opens a bourbon and cola, and leaves again a few minutes later, wearing his checked brown and white bush shirt with a Moshi portable speaker tucked in the top pocket and blue jeans.

He makes the three-minute walk back to the Cass Street home where he knows Sina is alone, enters through the unlocked back door and launches his attack.

He reaches for the utensil drawer and pulls out a butcher's knife and thrusts it into the back of her neck. He then stabs her in the head, where the force snaps the tip off the blade, but he continues to repeatedly stab her as she falls to the ground. Several blows are inflicted on the left side of her head.

Kelekolio does not let up, he proceeds as the knife snaps again.

The knife breaks until he is left with only the handle in his grasp.

During the violent attack, while Sina is still alive, Kelekolio carries out a sexual attack.

He then goes back to the drawer, pulls out a serrated knife and slashes her throat, likely the final blow, before returning to his home.

He wraps both knives in his bush shirt and stashes them under his father's car.

He is wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans when he tells his sister and aunty what he has stumbled upon.

Evidence

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae says the evidence that led to identifying Kelekolio as the sole killer was in the end overwhelming.

Mr Rae arrived later that Saturday morning, with officers from Christchurch, Timaru and Ashburton also descending on the Cass Street homicide scene.

A caravan was set up outside the Cass Street home, with police cordoning off the property and a section of Cass Street.

Due to the number of people who were with Sina close to the time of the killing, many interviews were narrowed down to a handful of key suspects.

In the meantime, investigating officers called in environmental scientists to conduct a scene examination, while police carried out numerous search warrants at relevant addresses about Ashburton, including the Aitken Street house where Kelekolio lived.

Kelekolio was interviewed the day after the incident. "He couldn't be excluded from day one because he was at the scene," Mr Rae said. "His story was tenuous at best and we were really trying to establish in far more concrete terms what he was doing and where he was, where he had been and what he had been up to."

On the day Sina died, Kelekolio posted condolences on his Facebook: "RIP", he wrote, followed immediately by the comment "to ma sis".

It seemed a cunning cover-up; a mindset he did not let up on.

Meanwhile, a bloodied hand print is found on a nearby used clothing bin, which is later found to have no relevance to the case. But a Moshi speaker found under Sina's body was highly likely to have been in Kelekolio's possession.

Five days after the murder on December 19, police found the serrated knife and knife handle wrapped in a shirt under Tommy's car at Aitken Street.

Police kept an open mind, but all the signs pointed to Kelekolio, even though results from the bloodied finger prints on Sina's body and DNA evidence were yet to be processed and reinforce Kelekolio's link to the crime.

Even when photographs of the knives and the shirt were shown to Kelekolio he didn't fold.

"He came up with a story about someone else being involved and him being threatened and having to dispose of them at the other guy's instigation. It didn't have the solid ring of truth about it," Mr Rae said.

"His tactics weren't sophisticated. As far as the investigation was concerned it was a good solid piece of work, taking our time and working through it."

Kelekolio was arrested that Wednesday night. He was remanded in custody after an appearance in the Christchurch Youth Court the following day on Thursday, December 20.

Two days later more than 400 people gather in the Baring Square Methodist Church for Sina's funeral.

He was then denied bail in Ashburton District Court to court on January 14, 2013.

But the questions still remained, why would a 15-year-old boy do this to a woman he knew as a stepsister?

Motive

Besides a potential sexual motive suggested during the investigation, Mr Rae said it was hard to establish the teen's motive for the malicious crime.

Friends close to Kelekolio said he appeared to have a good relationship with Sina, but others spoke of conflict within the family.

Mr Rae said there were hints of an argument between Kelekolio and Sina in the week prior to the murder, when she called him out on the way he spoke to a family member.

He says that could be to do with Kelekolio being brought up with strong Pacific Island values; that he may have taken umbrage at being censured by his stepsister. But at the end of the day the motive remains a mystery.

"I mean this has come out of the blue, there's no history to my knowledge of Bronson being violent like he was here."

On March 18, Kelekolio was committed to trial and a freshly laid charge of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection was put before him - he denied that too.

A pre-trial conference at the High Court in Christchurch heard he would stand trial for two weeks starting November 4, 2013, and despite what Mr Rae labelled "an overwhelming" case against him, Kelekolio maintained his not-guilty stance.

It is understood that was largely down to conflict within the family as to what was his best move. But at an arraignment hearing at the Timaru High Court sitting in Christchurch, Kelekolio made a shock guilty plea to both charges, with his father and the Solomona family sitting in the gallery.

On Thursday his name suppression was lifted and he was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 14 years and six months - more than 18 months since he committed the crime.

Friends, family

Loyal friends of Kelekolio Kelekolio, also known as Ale, have defended him through the ordeal, but it was with those friends that drugs, alcohol and cunning antics never seemed too far away.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae said Kelekolio, the youngest in the immediate Kelekolio family, lived a life with loose boundaries.

Friends say school was never really a priority for him in recent years and his behaviour reflected that.

He attended Ashburton Borough before heading to Ashburton College.

A schoolmate and childhood friend said he was often truant with friends.

"I remember one time they told me they went to one class during the whole week," she said.

She said he was asked to leave the college and join its community entry programme for pupils with behavioural difficulties who are at risk of being suspended or excluded.

Kelekolio is of Tokelauan descent, and the two families were brought together by Sina's mother and Kelekolio's father.

They united after Anuella's husband and father of her children Inu Ioapo, 40, was killed after his car collided with a stock truck 3km south of Rakaia on March 1, 2005.

Sources say Tommy was originally a family friend, who forged a relationship with Anuella.

Kelekolio's mother lived in Christchurch for several years, but according to her Facebook page, she now lives in Porirua.

Both families have lived in Mid Canterbury for several years after moving from Porirua. Kelekolio's father Tommy held down two jobs - one at ACL and another as part-time glass cleaner at The Shed nightclub.

Anuella worked at CMP in the lamb processing plant, not far from the bench her daughter Sina also used to work the night shift on.

The blended family spread across two houses, Kelekolio living with his aunty, his father's sister, and his own sister Malia on Aitken Street, while Tommy lived just around the corner at 111 Cass Street with the Solomona family.

Another one of Kelekolio's sisters, Imeleta Ulupalo, lived elsewhere in Ashburton with her husband and family.

One associate said: "Bronson had a lot of issues at home" and appeared to have little structure in his life.

Anuella's friend Elenoa Needham said there was conflict within the family. Kelekolio was not always welcomed by the Solomona side.

"It was because of his mouth, and Sina always used to call him a little shit because Tommy believed whatever he said.

"Tommy wasn't always around when they were together."

Friends say Kelekolio often appeared at ease on the outside with a cheeky sense of humour.

However, comments on his Facebook page offered an insight into the life the 15-year-old led.

"I miss getting drunk with you, all the mad smoke up's and all the timed I've saved your ass (sic)," one person wrote, reminiscing after his friend was arrested for the killing.

But he was also a keen sportsman, being selected in the Mid Canterbury Country under 14½ squad in June 2010 after performing well for his Tinwald club.

An associate, who did not want to be named, said they remembered Kelekolio moving in with a family friend when things got tough at home, where he was "really happy".

He went to church with them and helped out with household chores. But when he went back to his family, things began to slide again.

Mr Rae said Kelekolio's home life would have been a contributing factor in his offending.

"I don't think he fitted with the ideals of the family at Cass Street; he behaved in ways that weren't acceptable to them and they pushed him away," he said.

"He's living with an elderly aunty, he's living with an older sister, both who have their own lives that they go about. He's not in school, he's in the education programme. He hasn't got a parent living with him, no-one is exercising control or direction over him apart from the odd time when he gets a cuff over the ear for when he's not doing something right.

"He had access to alcohol, he was accessing drugs ... but what it means is you lose your inhibitions to improve, it takes away your drive and so he was falling by the wayside.

"It was a definite contributing factor."

Now

Today, Kelekolio has had two birthdays in juvenile detention in Christchurch, his 16th on the Christmas Eve just six days after he was arrested.

Meanwhile, the blended family he was once part of has been destroyed.

Anuella and Tommy split after Sina's funeral and any slight relationship that remained was in tatters after Kelekolio pleaded guilty.

Sina's daughter Kaira is being raised by Anuella and Sina's twin sister Loretta.

They occasionally visit the Ashburton Methodist Church where minister Tevita Taufalele works with them. He says Kaira is now known as Sina Junior.

"I've been talking with them through the process of forgiveness," Tevita said.

However, he said it would take time and be difficult for them to entirely come to grips with something that is still so raw.

Tommy is still living in Ashburton and is said to remain one of Kelekolio's strongest supporters.

Kelekolio, now 17, has at least 14 years before him in prison, along with the life-long reputation he gets with it.

He will have to accept the destruction of a life he caused, and, along with that, the family he was once part of.

- Ashburton Guardian

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