A man with a history of mental illness was released from Auckland's acute mental health unit just three days before committing one of the most brutal murders the city has seen. Today, Gabriel Yad-Elohim was sentenced to life imprisonment. But the tragic death of Michael Mulholland has always appeared entirely preventable. Now criticism has been levelled at our mental health services with a judge saying considerable external examination is required. Sam Hurley reports.

A 69-year-old man and loved father lay just outside the front door of his home, unconscious and dying.

His killer tosses cigarettes over his body.

Some believed it was symbolic of the money he felt he was owed after a drug deal gone wrong, others would consider it represented Japanese tau-haku flowers - large, single, and pure white.

The killer then walks away.

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His name is Gabriel Hikari Yad-Elohim.

Claiming to be born in Tokyo, he hadn't always had his Hebrew name, which translated means "hand or messenger of God".

He was Yuuki Watanabe, born in South Korea.

It would later be known he believed he was "an agent of God".

It would later be known he was a mental health patient, a delusional Korean-Japanese man with a history of mental illness.

It would later be revealed by the Herald he was released from an acute medical unit just three days before murdering Michael David Mulholland last September 26 outside his Western Springs flat.

For much of Yad-Elohim's life he has been in-and-out of the various mental health services.

He moved to New Zealand from Japan in 1999 and had been admitted three times to mental health services in Auckland - first in 2009 for five weeks, and again in late 2014 and into 2015 for 10 weeks before last year's admission.

He also received care in Sydney and while in Australia was convicted for assaulting a nurse.

In 2016, Yad-Elohim was arrested in New Zealand for common assault and possession of meth utensils, but he breached his bail and flew to Hong Kong then Canada.

Gabriel Yad-Elohim in the dock on day one of his trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Gabriel Yad-Elohim in the dock on day one of his trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When in Canada his psychosis took hold.

He lived in Toronto and, according to medical notes, said he saw ghosts, while the trees also had evil eyes.

He was arrested for attacking a Chinese man he believed was evil and deserved death and was deported back to New Zealand last year.

An earlier attack by Yad-Elohim on a man in Canada did not result in a conviction after Yad-Elohim was assessed as being psychotic with delusions.

The man who claims to be a martial arts black belt also saw himself as Japanese anime character Ichigo Kurosaki, a powerful samurai with supernatural powers and reaper of souls.

Yad-Elohim self-presented at Auckland City Hospital's emergency room on September 17 last year.

Medical notes, read to the court during his trial, show he was agitated and disorganised when first assessed by the on-call psychiatrist.

He was soon admitted to Auckland District Health Board's (ADHB) mental health unit, Te Whetu Tawera.

While there he was assessed as hearing voices - one was Satan, the other was telling him to avoid and even kill African and Korean people.

"This voice has increased and he is now overwhelmed by it," Yad-Elohim's medical notes read.

"He presents in a disorganised manner and he may act on such thoughts."

Michael Mulholland's body was found in the top right of the stairwell at his Western Springs block of flats. Photo / Dean Purcell
Michael Mulholland's body was found in the top right of the stairwell at his Western Springs block of flats. Photo / Dean Purcell

Yad-Elohim demanded a Bible but became upset when he did not immediately receive one.

A drug test showed traces of methamphetamine and cannabis in his system, but after he was given anti-psychotic medication his symptoms improved.

By September 20, Yad-Elohim had stopped hearing voices, his medical notes read.

Dr Peter (William) McColl, the service clinical director at Te Whetu Tawera, began preparing the man who identifies as Japanese, for release.

McColl said during Yad-Elohim's trial it is difficult to determine if a person's psychosis is caused by substance abuse or other health issues, but despite this he felt Yad-Elohim was fit to leave.

The top doctor decided to discharge his patient and scheduled community treatment, but Yad-Elohim had nowhere to go and so he was kept in the unit for another couple of days.

On September 23, there were 56 patients at Te Whetu Tawera, leaving two empty beds.

However, that day two more people at Auckland City Hospital were sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

"The hospital had become full," McColl said when giving evidence.

Yad-Elohim was given medication to take and released - McColl signed what he would later call a "good discharge".

Just three days later Mulholland was dead.

The day after the murder an off-duty detective saw Yad-Elohim in central Auckland wearing a white builder's mask.

"Excuse me, can I have a word?" police officer Ruth Niu recalled of the interaction.

"He looked at me and said 'no'."

Back-up arrived in the form of Detective Ray Fa'aofo, who along with Niu helped restrain and arrest Yad-Elohim.

"It wasn't my fault, it's all covered, it wasn't like that you'll see," Niu recalled Yad-Elohim telling the detectives.

Later at the Auckland Central Police Station, Fa'aofo interviewed the murder suspect.

"I had no intention to kill," Yad-Elohim said.

"I will tell you everything," he said.

Gabriel Yad-Elohim, pictured on CCTV the day of the killing. Photo / Supplied
Gabriel Yad-Elohim, pictured on CCTV the day of the killing. Photo / Supplied

Yad-Elohim was interviewed with a translator but without a lawyer present.

"What do you think about this case? Do you think I should speak to a lawyer? Yes, I need [a] lawyer," he told the detective.

However, despite Yad-Elohim's request, the interview continued.

"I think Ray [Fa'aofo] knows 'cause everything, 'cause it was on CCTV," Yad-Elohim said.

"Somebody stole my money ... I didn't know he was going to die."

The Crown's case against Yad-Elohim was almost entirely encapsulated in the horrific CCTV footage of Yad-Elohim's assault on Mulholland.

The pensioner was dragged from the front door of his flat after a brief verbal altercation and attacked viciously in the stairwell for about five or six minutes.

During the police interview Fa'aofo briefly left the room. At that moment Yad-Elohim, dressed in a white boiler suit, began aggressively ranting in Japanese.

Video of the interview shows him pacing about, while a translated transcript, read by the Herald, shows Yad-Elohim yelled about nirvana and Jesus several times.

Yad-Elohim also appears to start maniacally laughing and raises his glass of water to an invisible person in the room.

While at the station Yad-Elohim was searched on the police's database. A mental health alert appeared underneath his name. However, police, under the orders of Detective Phil Cox, did nothing.

Before Yad-Elohim was placed before a jury several hearings were needed to decide on his fitness to stand trial.

His defence team, led by Annabel Cresswell, were convinced their client was legally insane and unfit.

During the pre-trial hearings, Dr Jeremy Skipworth, said Yad-Elohim had a history of meth, cannabis, and alcohol abuse.

The clinical head of the Mason Clinic, Auckland's regional forensic psychiatry services unit, had Yad-Elohim under his care since shortly after his arrest.

His notes said Yad-Elohim dropped out of high school as a result of substance abuse and being unable to meet academic demands, while he also had a fixation on video games.

"If he was to take the stand and give evidence it would be a spectacular disaster," Skipworth said.

He said Yad-Elohim viewed the judge as Pontius Pilate, deciding for the crowd if he should be released.

The Korean-Japanese man was seeking a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Psychiatrist Dr Justin Barry-Walsh continued with the religious themed assessments.

He said Yad-Elohim viewed the jury as representing the 12 tribes of Israel through a "psychotic lens that sees everything as God's will".

"If these symptoms persist they may be chronic," he said.

Barry-Walsh added Yad-Elohim was prepared to submit to the will of God based on communications from the Bible which he called a "beckoning".

Yad-Elohim, the doctor added, believed if he didn't kill a person he would be forced to "flee to shelter and flee to a safety city".

However, Justice Edwin Wylie ruled a jury would decide Yad-Elohim's fate.

Yad-Elohim's jury heard Mulholland's death was the result of a "drug deal gone wrong".

The court regularly heard this storyline from Crown prosecutor Kirsten Lummis despite Mulholland having no gang or drug-dealing ties as suggested - a narrative which aggrieved Mulholland's family who attended every day of the trial.

"While this might be described as a drug deal gone wrong it is more than that," Justice Gerard van Bohemen said when sentencing Yad-Elohim to life behind bars and a minimum period of imprisonment of 13 years.

Mulholland's daughter also said today her Dad wasn't a drug dealer or a gang leader but was a man who loved the sea and collected National Geographic magazines.

His greatest treasures, she said, were the letters from his children.

"He was an old man chilling in his house drinking a beer, probably reading a book or watching TV," she said.

She said it had been a year since she last spoke to her Dad.

"I have held on tight to those words ever since," she said.

The pain she feels on the daily basis as the daughter of a murder victim is "so intense", she said

"I saw my Dad's body and remember thinking it wasn't him because he was so disfigured ... They weren't able to embalm him properly."

Mulholland had suffered an estimated 90 blows to his head and body.

CCTV footage of the attack is too gruesome to be released publicly, Justice Gerard van Bohemen ruled. Photo / Dean Purcell
CCTV footage of the attack is too gruesome to be released publicly, Justice Gerard van Bohemen ruled. Photo / Dean Purcell

The trial, she continued, was the most painful experience she endured.

Seeing and hearing how her father, known fondly to his friends as Goose, brutally died was heart-breaking.

"He is well missed and he did not deserve to die."

She told the Herald after the jury's verdict the trial had highlighted what she described as serious problems in the mental health system.

"But it's not going to bring back my Dad," she said.

She hoped her father's death would not be in vain and Yad-Elohim is not able to do this to anyone ever again.

"I lost my father, whom I think about everyday ... I miss him a lot and know I will have to face the rest of my life without him," she added today.

"I have lost a lot of faith for the goodness of the world."

Lummis said Mulholland - at just 67kg - was no match for a younger, fitter Yad-Elohim, who was motivated after being swindled out of $2000 by transgender woman Tai Hona Uru.

However, psychiatrist Dr James Cavney, the defence's expert witness, said Yad-Elohim was suffering from several delusions at the time of the murder.

He also observed Yad-Elohim, as Barry-Walsh did, as viewing the jury as the 12 tribes of Israel and the judge as acting on behalf of God.

Yad-Elohim said from the dock today:
Yad-Elohim said from the dock today: "I was mentally ill when the incident happened." Photo / Greg Bowker

Cavney said Yad-Elohim thought Mulholland was speaking to him while lying dead in the stairwell, but it may have been his death rattle.

Yad-Elohim also thought he had a "divine endorsement" to kill and "make the world a better place", Cavney testified.

While on remand at Mt Eden Prison, Yad-Elohim also scribbled down a list of fellow inmates he believed were going to help him "exterminate lowlifes for the betterment of humanity", Cavney said.

Every psychiatrist who assessed Yad-Elohim said he suffered a disease of the mind at the time of the murder but were at odds over whether he was unaware of the morality of his actions - the test for an insanity defence.

As the trial continued more and more scrutiny went on McColl and Yad-Elohim's treatment and release from Te Whetu Tawera.

"I'm very aware of the murder," McColl said from the witness stand.

"I regret to say the deceased did not fit the demographic [of Yad-Elohim's death threats to kill Africans and Koreans] ... I am bitterly sorry for the victim's family in the back of the court."

However, McColl made no apologies for signing off on Yad-Elohim's release despite another doctor noting he was "still" having hallucinations to kill people.

"I think she's mistaken," McColl told the court of his doctor's notes.

But McColl also admitted some of his medical notes were inaccurate.

During what was at times a tense cross-examination, defence lawyer Matthew Goodwin said to the doctor: "You're trying to throw her under the bus because you've got a medical record indicating that only a few days before the killing that he's still suffering from hallucinations to kill."

McColl stood firm.

"It was a good discharge, it was well thought through," he said. "This is what we do."

But Goodwin wanted answers.

"Where are the safeguards, doctor, where are the safeguards for the community with this patient being released?"

McColl said Yad-Elohim's symptoms had resolved and he "no longer needed hospital-level care".

"The pieces were in place to follow up ... he was well."

Goodwin retorted: "You say that but three days after release he killed someone."

Gabriel Yad-Elohim self-presented to Auckland City Hospital before becoming a patient at its acute mental health unit. Photo / Doug Sherring
Gabriel Yad-Elohim self-presented to Auckland City Hospital before becoming a patient at its acute mental health unit. Photo / Doug Sherring

During the exchange, in what shocked everyone but McColl in the courtroom, an external review of Yad-Elohim's treatment came to light.

It was commissioned after Mulholland's murder and completed by a clinical director from Northland and nurse director from Christchurch.

But, bizarrely, it wasn't disclosed to the court or the lawyers involved in the trial.

While the review has been classified as "confidential" by the ADHB parts of it were read during the trial.

It showed the medical notes kept on Yad-Elohim were "misleading".

However, McColl said neither he nor his staff had "dropped the ball".

"Te Whetu don't appear to want to take any responsibility for that release," Cresswell said.

The ADHB told the Herald it could not release its external review of Yad-Elohim's care for privacy reasons.

However, a spokesperson said the reviewers "have not identified any substantial care delivery problems that may have contributed to the event prompting the review".

But several recommendations made were being implemented.

The ADHB also expressed its sympathy for Mulholland's family.

Justice van Bohemen said any eventual return to the community for Yad-Elohim will require a careful assessment of his mental health needs.

He said McColl's decision to release Yad-Elohim warrants further considerable external examination.

The judge continued and said Yad-Elohim's psychosis at the time of the murder "clouded" his understanding and he "did not fully appreciate the severity and consequences" of the attack.

When Yad-Elohim was asked if he had anything to say before the court's sentence was imposed on him he said: "I was mentally ill when the incident happened."

Yad-Elohim continued to utter words from the dock.

"There seems to be ongoing, I perceive at least, serious psychotic delusions about what happened and his role in that," Goodwin said.

The Herald understands Yad-Elohim's defence team are exploring avenues of appeal.