Victim's sister had to look at 'murderous leech'

Gail Lees receives a hug from her deceased brothers flatmate and landlord Koro Erika. Photo / Greg Bowker
Gail Lees receives a hug from her deceased brothers flatmate and landlord Koro Erika. Photo / Greg Bowker

The sister of a murdered south Auckland man knew she had to face her brother's killer to see what his features revealed.

He might have shed a tear and he certainly sniffed, but she saw no remorse.

Richard John Lees' life ended violently in October 2012. He was murdered by a neighbour looking to steal items to pay a drug debt worth less than $100.

Mr Lees was punched about the head and neck 11 times by Kaveinga Helotu Lavemai, 29, in a brutal and unprovoked attack.

Lavemai was yesterday jailed for life, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. In the High Court at Auckland, Mr Lees' sister Gail Lees stood and stared straight at Lavemai as she read an emotional victim impact statement that called her brother's killer a "manipulative, murderous leech to society".

After the sentencing, Ms Lees explained why she needed to confront Lavemai head-on.

"I wanted him to look me in the eye. Throughout the trial I couldn't see his face. I wanted to face him and see his face. It tells me a lot - people's faces.

"There's no remorse in there. I hope that will come later."

The Wellington nurse was happy with the minimum term imposed, saying "justice has been done". She was also grateful that the law allows the most callous murderers, such as Lavemai, no chance of being freed before they serve that 17-year term.

She hoped Lavemai, who will be in his mid-40s when he can be released, would change, for the public's sake at least.

In court, Ms Lees told him: "You brutally murdered a truly beautiful man, a man who simply wished to live his days in peace."

The day he killed Mr Lees, Lavemai was drinking at home. He might also have consumed methamphetamine.

He owed money over a drug debt and decided to rob the house where Mr Lees lived in a sleepout.

In the evening Lavemai knocked on Mr Lees' door.

"He was polite and invited you in. Without warning and without any provocation on Mr Lees' part, you punched him almost immediately," Justice Murray Gilbert told Lavemai.

The first blow landed Mr Lees on the couch and he soon lost consciousness, but Lavemai kept punching. He later said this gave him a thrill, while a voice told him: "Don't stop, just carry on."

As Mr Lees was struggling for breath, Lavemai stole a PlayStation and a stereo. He made no attempt to help the dying man.

"This murder was committed with a high level of brutality and callousness," Justice Gilbert said.

Defence lawyer Kelly-Ann Stoikoff offered Lavemai's "heartfelt and sincere" apologies to Mr Lees' family, saying her client now accepted the enormity of what he had done.

Lavemai had only minor previous convictions, but had a tough upbringing, the court was told.

He will be eligible for parole in 2029.

"I'm glad we don't have to do this anymore, until the next parole hearing," Ms Lees told APNZ. "It's a little while off."

Who is Richard Lees?

Born on June 12, 1957, in England

His family of three brothers and a sister moved to Australia, then New Zealand

Completed a horticultural apprenticeship

Family and friends described him as "kind" and "beautiful"

"A man who never took but only gave," Ms Lees said

She calls him "Richard the lionheart", after a "brave British king".

- APNZ

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