Rob Willems remembers the day he learned his brother, Bram, died as if it was yesterday.
He woke in the middle of the night to what he was thought was his mother laughing hysterically – the sound was louder and more intense than he had ever heard before.
Keen to share her joy he went to be with her but instead found a policeman in the room and his father standing with an inconsolable pain in his eyes.
It turned out his mother, Christy Lacroix, was not laughing. She had just lost her child – a soul she had gone through thick and thin for, cried and laughed with and had made a promise to care for.
Rob was shaking but trying not to descend into shock as he tried to console his family and process what had happened.
Police who came to the house that morning told the family the 22-year-old had died on the way to hospital after being found on the ground with critical stab wounds near Opua's Roadrunner Tavern.
His killer was a 14-year-old with whom the socially awkward Northland man had recently struck up a friendship.
Today that teen, who has name suppression, was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years for Bram's murder in January 2021.
In the hours before his death, Bram was out in his car with the teen and three of his young cousins.
Bram supplied the group with alcohol and cannabis and they drove around for a while before stopping at Kawakawa where CCTV and an audio recording captured the first bout of trouble between Bram and his young mate.
The teen accused Bram of acting inappropriately towards his female cousin. He was angry and threatened Bram who tried to apologise. When a bystander told them police had been called they all got back in the car and eventually ended up near the Roadrunner Tavern.
The girl, who was upset, ran off. Bram suggested he go after her and apologise but his mate wouldn't have it and got so angry a woman who lived up the road heard the exchange.
At the teen's jury trial in Whangarei last year, that woman said the level of anger in one voice scared her even at that distance. The other voice was trying to be consolatory.
Justice Timothy Brewer said during the sentencing in the High Court at Whangārei he had no doubt, based on the earlier incident at Kawakawa, that loud voice was the teen who now stood before him with a murder conviction.
Instead of getting in his car and driving off as he might sensibly have done, Bram tried to talk to the teen who had pulled out a knife he habitually carried.
Evidence was that Bram also had a knife and was holding it in his hand but not aggressively, Justice Brewer said.
He did not accept the teen's evidence at trial that Bram tried to lunge toward him prompting him to lash out in fear and self-defence.
The way the youth attacked Bram, stabbing him seven times in the chest and abdomen while he was standing and then a further six times to his lower back and buttocks as he lay on the ground, was an explosion of anger not an act of excessive self-defence, Brewer said.
The teen's cousins had tried to calm him down.
One of the wounds inflicted on the ground was so forceful it pierced Bram's pelvic bone. It was one of the chest wounds that was fatal.
In her victim impact statement, Bram's mother said there was no excuse for taking a life – no culture approved of it and everyone is taught from a young age not to harm others.
Bram too faced challenges but he was struggling his way through it and finding his way through it.
"That's what life is about - you learn from the challenges," she said.
"There are no words to express the deep sadness we feel every day every minute. The trauma you caused us has changed our lives forever – it is not superficial or a change that is bound to pass after a while but is forever. It is a life sentence for us.
"The only thing Bram was looking for in life was friendship, love and acceptance but what he was seeking ended in betrayal, pain, and dying alone."
She told the teen he still had a life and what he did with it was up to him.
"You still have the opportunity because we all know a life sentence is not a life sentence.
You will still be given a chance so use it wisely," Lacroix said.
Counsel Ron Mansfield, QC, argued for a term of five or six years saying life imprisonment was an adult sentence designed for adults who commit murder and would be manifestly unjust to impose on a youth.
When he turned 18, the teen would be transferred from the youth facility where he will be housed initially to an adult prison, the risks of which were well-known for young people. Mansfield wanted the court to impose a sentence that would avoid the damage that can happen to a young offender in the adult prison system.
He noted the Court of Appeal had just this week been grappling with the issue of sentences for youths convicted of murder. The time had come for Parliament to revisit the issue, Mansfield said.
Crown prosecutor Michael Smith said the presumptive sentence of life imprisonment should apply and would not be manifestly unjust.
It could be argued that a term more than the statutory minimum of 10 years should apply given the brutality of the attack but an allowance for youth could be made by limiting the sentence to the minimum, Smith said.
Justice Brewer agreed with the Crown there was nothing about the case to displace the presumptive life sentence for murder but there was also no reason to increase it from the minimum term.
He noted the teen came from a loving background. It was only when his parents split up when he was aged 12, that he began associating with negative influences and becoming interested in "gangster" culture.
The issue of permanent name suppression was also discussed at sentencing, with the judge reserving his decision.
Mansfield signalled he will appeal the sentence and any decision against name suppression.