An emotional funeral for compassionately released prisoner and cancer sufferer Vicki Letele was held at her home church in Papatoetoe today.
Letele was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer eight months ago while she was in prison for fraud. Her plea for compassionate release received national attention after it was taken up by a strong community of those at her church, politicians and media.
Letele (Ngāti Maniapoto/Samoa) won release and was able to spend her final months at home with her family.
She died on Monday surrounded by whānau, at the age of 36.
Letele became a devout Christian six years ago, and was heavily involved with Calvary Community Church. The funeral was held at Papatoetoe Seventh Day Adventist Community Church, where Calvary's congregation meets.
The two-hour service was standing-room only, and was attended by many hundreds of people in the large church building, and watching on a TV in the foyer - testament to the impact she had in many people's lives.
Letele's father, Leiataua David Letele, a former chapter president of the Mongrel Mob and now pastoral leader at Calvary, spoke of Vicki's past and the rapid turnaround that occurred in her life once she became a Christian.
"The things that got her in trouble was pre-God ... Now she has God.
"The day Vicki opened the door to her Jesus Christ, she never looked back."
Partner Leah Witehera said: "She took on the homeless, those with mental health issues, and those who had come out of prison."
Letele preached and led church groups at Calvary, as well as founding Grace Foundation, a "house of hope, family of faith, and home of love" which helped house homeless people - "to empower and assist marginalised members" of the community.
Letele was also a former New Zealand Kiwi Ferns rugby league player.
Her father Leiataua also spoke of the battle to get Vicki out of prison after her diagnosis.
"There was no way we wanted her to stay in there for those five months. She wouldn't have even made her first parole hearing."
Her brother, David "Buttabean" Letele, stepped in to fight for a compassionate release from prison. The media got involved to publicise the case.
"Before you know it we had a huge following calling for justice," he said.
Letele was released last November.
Leiataua said he held Vicki during her final breaths on Monday. She was surrounded by whānau.
The funeral, while a tragic occasion, was filled with joy, laughter and smiles, largely due to Letele's and the congregation's strong Christian faith.
A proud, tearful haka was given outside by many after the funeral, led by brother David, before Letele's body was taken away.
Vicki Ravana Letele is survived by her partner Leah Witehera and their three children.