By SCOTT MacLEOD
The gunman who murdered two men with bullets to the head nearly killed five other people during a string of violent robberies.
In a three-week spree from April 22, Ese Junior Falealii robbed eight stores, fired eight shots and reaped $15,336 from a bank, a furniture shop, a bar, a snooker hall, a pizza outlet and three TAB betting agencies.
In the Manukau District Court yesterday, the 18-year-old unemployed Flat Bush man said, "Guilty, I'm sorry," while pleading to two murders, one attempted murder and eight aggravated robberies.
Falealii's loud, frenzied and deadly raids instilled fear into Auckland's retail community until people - including his family - dobbed him in to the police.
Falealii told police he robbed the stores to pay drug debts. He shot Mangere Bridge ASB Bank teller John Vaughan for "no reason".
The murders of Mr Vaughan on May 15 and Pakuranga Pizza Delivery Company worker Marcus Doig on May 8 were widely reported.
But yesterday, as Falealii's name suppression lapsed, it was revealed that five other people were lucky to survive his raids.
Falealii admitted that on May 3 he burst into the Forhomes Furniture shop in Papatoetoe, pointed his sawn-off .22 rifle at owner Jatuporn Harvey and ordered her to lie on the ground. When she moved too slowly, he fired a shot that just missed her.
Forhomes manager Colin Green said a second bullet passed so close to him it sent a paperclip flying into his head. Falealii fired a third shot as he fled with $270.
Mr Green said he saw a bank camera photo of his attacker on the front page of the Herald after the ASB robbery and told his wife: "That's the guy".
He recalled: "The hairs on the back of my neck stood up."
On May 5, Falealii raided the Lucki Bar in Otahuhu and pointed his rifle at workers as they gave him $1650. As he was running from the store he found a man standing in his way. He pointed the rifle at the man's head and pulled the trigger - but the gun did not fire.
Falealii later told police that he believed the rifle was loaded and that his target would have been shot dead.
On May 7, Falealii became agitated when the manager of the 7 Eleven Snooker Bar in Penrose took too long to fill a bag with cash. He fired a bullet just past the head of the manager, Christopher Pellowe, and fled with $2000.
During the robbery of the Pizza firm on May 8, Falealii burst in as owner John Bell was baking in the main staff area.
While Mr Bell was filling a bag with cash, Falealii saw Mr Doig in the rear of the shop and ordered him to come closer and lie on the floor. Falealii then shot Mr Doig in the back of the head.
Mr Bell dived behind a table as Falealii tried to gun him down as well, sending a bullet through the shop's front window and another into a concrete wall.
A week later, while tellers were filling a bag with cash at the Mangere Bridge ASB, Falealii cocked his rifle and threatened to shoot Mr Vaughan in the head.
The tellers handed over $5830 and put their hands up in the surrender position. Falealii then leaned over the counter and fired a bullet into Mr Vaughan's brain.
During Falealii's other raids, on TAB shops in East Tamaki, St Heliers and Dominion Rd, he swore loudly and pointed his rifle at numerous staff and customers.
A police document presented in court yesterday said Falealii told officers that he knew Mr Vaughan and Mr Doig would die from his shots.
Defence lawyer Kevin Ryan, QC, said Falealii wished to apologise to Mr Doig's father.
"I wish I could give some explanation, but I can't, and neither can he," Mr Ryan said. "He has taken a step in the right direction [by pleading guilty] and he has asked me to express his contrition."
Five weeks ago, Mr Ryan said while applying for a psychiatric report that his client had a heart condition that could affect his judgment.
Outside court yesterday, Mr Ryan said he asked for the report to see if a defence based on insanity was possible. Falealii had a hole in his heart which could have caused brain damage.
Falealii had been involved with speed and cannabis, he said.
An officer who worked on the case, Detective Sergeant Mark Gutry, said outside the court that Falealii's explanation for his actions was "rather chilling".
Peter Doig, the father of Marcus, yesterday saw the killer in person for the first time. He said Falealii's explanation was "all beyond belief, unbelievable. I just cannot understand it when you hear what it's all about."
His reaction to the apology was: "Then why did you do it in the first place?" Asked about the sentencing, he said he always believed in "life for a life".
The family were regrouping, Mr Doig said, and were strong.
A statement by relatives of Mr Vaughan said the guilty plea would help them to get on with grieving, although they were still "devastated". They praised the police for their quick work catching the killer.
Falealii lived with his parents and many siblings in a small but tidy home in Flat Bush Rd.
Most neighbours said the occupants were "a nice Catholic family" whom they described as "very quiet".
One neighbour, Sunday Nomotu, said Ese Falealii was the only bad egg in the family.
He accused the teenager of twice breaking into his garage to steal beer or chicken.
Falealii attended De La Salle College for more than three years, until late 1997.
Deputy principal Patrick Walsh, who taught him, said he had behaviour and learning problems and often needed counselling.
His parents always co-operated, and a brother had done well academically.
"It's true to say the school did everything it could for Ese, with regular family group conferences, but in the end he was referred to a special school that deals with behavioural problems," Mr Walsh said.
Yesterday, Falealii was remanded in custody until July 19, when he will be sentenced.
Judge Mary-Beth Sharp said: "I'm sure I speak for everyone in the court when I offer to the victims of these terrible crimes my condolences."
Other people have also been charged with the robberies and shootings. Their details are being kept secret, by court order.
- additional reporting Angela Gregory, Ainsley Thomson