Man charged with murdering former Auckland cop ‘not relative in traditional sense’

The Kiwi family of a Tongan man killed in Hawaii say they have no idea what happened to their relative, beyond what they've read in the news.

Josh Liava'a, 65, was allegedly shot in the head by a relative with a rifle in Kahaluu during a dispute on Monday and pronounced dead in hospital that night.

Samuela Mataele, 18, was yesterday charged with his murder in Hawaii and is due in court this morning to face the charges.

One of the slain man's six children, Joseph Liava'a told the Herald he was flying out this morning to claim his father's body - and he hoped to learn what had happened.


"We don't actually know much about what's going on," he said.

He did not have any more to say, he said, other than the fact he did not know the teenager allegedly responsible for the shooting. Another Kiwi relative, who did not want to be named, said the man who was charged was likely a relative of some sort but was not a nephew in the traditional Western sense.

"They are related in some way but we don't know them. He was living with that family, as far as we know," the relative said.

According to Honolulu's KITV News, sources close to the family say the 18-year-old alleged killer "was known to have struggled with mental illness".

Mataele's father was thought to have been looking after the Kahaluu property where the shooting took place, and that Liava'a was staying there.

Local news site KHON2 reported that following the single shot that killed Mr Liava'a, "Mataele then threatened to shoot a 36-year-old, but that man was able to run away and alert police".

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The report said Mataele was caught after a seven-hour manhunt.

Mr Liava'a was a former Auckland policeman, who also represented the national rugby league team in the 1975 World Cup. He made headlines twice in his life for romancing two Tongan Princesses, one of whom he secretly wedded in 1969 before having the marriage annulled by the Tongan King when he found out.

The Tongan-born former cop had not been permanently living in New Zealand for some time, splitting time between Australia and the United States.

"He got fed up with New Zealand ... " his relative said. "He moved around quite a bit."

It is understood he had been in Hawaii for about six months before the shooting.

Salote Lilo, a Tongan community leader in Auckland, recalled working alongside Mr Liava'a in the late 80s and early 90s for the not-for-profit South Auckland Tongan Association, which provided services to the local Tongan community including a shelter, counselling for domestic abuse and budgeting assistance.

"He's a gentleman, a hard-working person. He was passionate and his passion was to help the community," she said.