An Auckland man who murdered a church bell-ringer with a machete just metres from the chapel has been jailed for life.

He will serve a minimum non-parole period of 17 years in jail.

Ueta Vea earlier pleaded guilty to killing Laulimu Liuasi, a 62-year-old man who was living on the grounds of the St John the Evangelist Church in Ōtara, Auckland.

Vea, 45, was arrested shortly after what Crown prosecutor Michael Regan described as a "frenzied attack" on the evening of January 13 this year.

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Today in the High Court at Auckland, Justice Simon Moore said Liuasi's family were struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what happened.

"They have seen their family structure collapse," he said.

"Graciously and generously, they try to forgive you [Vea]. But what you did was as inexcusable as it is irreversible.

"Through your actions you have broken this family."

During the attack Vea had severed his victim's spinal cord, Justice Moore said.

"When you were done you didn't lift a finger to help him."

Instead you watched as his life ebbed away before you, he said.

"This level of callousness adds another level of culpability."

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Justice Moore said he had carefully read letters from Vea's niece and brothers whose heartfelt words explained that they remained confounded that he did not share his concerns about his marriage.

They too ask for forgiveness, he said.

Vea and Liuasi attended the church with their families and had also previously worked together to maintain the church property, Justice Moore said.

Vea began to suspect the bell-ringer was having an affair with his wife, Veisinia Vea, in November last year.

Vea had discovered sexual text messages sent to his wife from Liuasi, who was married himself.

Vea confronted the pair over the messages several times.

The ongoing tensions led to an intervention between the group and their spouses, which was facilitated by the church priest in December.

Liuasi and Vea's wife denied an affair, but Vea remained suspicious as the sexual texts continued.

In January, the married couple had a heated argument at a church function in Maraetai, as Vea aired his mistrust.

Another confrontation occurred with other members of the congregation over Vea's behaviour before Vea also contacted Liuasi to discuss the fracas.

The next morning Vea's wife asked him to move out of their home - their marriage was over.

Later in the afternoon Vea asked his wife to stop at an Ōtāhuhu home, under the pretext that he was collecting an item for work.

However, he was really collecting his murder weapon - a machete hidden in a cupboard.

Vea wrapped the blade in a blue lavalava and hid it from his wife.

At about 5pm, Vea left the house and walked 3.7km to the church on Ōtara Rd.

Once there he found a hiding spot and to observe Liuasi.

Laulimu Liuasi's body was found in a pool of blood on the grounds of the St John the Evangelist Church in Ōtara. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Laulimu Liuasi's body was found in a pool of blood on the grounds of the St John the Evangelist Church in Ōtara. Photo / Jason Oxenham

About 6pm, Liuasi left his home to ring the church bell and Vea snuck into the house through a window - armed with the machete.

He stood behind a wall in the kitchen, near the door, and waited.

When Liuasi returned he was ambushed.

"Using the machete you rained blows down upon him," Justice Moore said.

Struck several times to the back of the neck, chin, left ear, left shoulder, hand and torso, Liuasi collapsed.

"As the attack unfolded Mr Liuasi begged for mercy in Samoan, the language you both shared, and you ignored his pleas.

"You rolled him over, you watched him for several minutes. Blood pooled around him. You did nothing to help."

Satisfied he was dead or dying Vea took his car keys and fled in Liuasi's car, discarding the machete in a wheelie bin next to the rear door, he said.

"Your actions in the aftermath of murdering Mr Liuasi were measured and calm."

He travelled to his wife's house and told her he had just murdered Liuasi.

She immediately went to the church with Vea and found the priest.

The three of them entered Liuasi's home and discovered the grisly crime scene.

Liuasi's mouth, however, started twitching and the priest noticed he was still breathing.

An ambulance was called but paramedics were unable to revive Liuasi, while police arrested Vea.

When spoken to by officers, Vea immediately admitted killing Liuasi and told them where he had discarded the machete.

"Many relationships fail," Justice Moore told the court.

"People from all walks of life and cultures have to cope with the inevitable emotional roller coaster when intimate relationships fail.

"They do not resort to violence, let alone lethal violence."

Justice Moore took into account as an aggravating factor that many of Vea's previous convictions related to family violence.

"You began to accumulate them in 2005 and it seems you have not been able to disrupt that pattern of offending," he said.

"Eleven of the convictions relate to offending against your wife. They include breaching a protection order, male assaults female and common assault."

Despite this, Vea had never served a term of imprisonment before, he said.

Justice Moore accepted that Vea's family had participated in Ifoga, a cultural practice seeking forgiveness, but noted that Vea's guilty plea was not entered at the earliest opportunity and that the case against him was strong.

Vea's family were in tears as his sentence of life imprisonment was handed down, with one sobbing woman pressing her hand against the glass of the dock as he left the courtroom.