An Auckland man who murdered a church bell-ringer with a machete just metres from a chapel has appealed his sentence.

Ueta Vea murdered Laulimu Liuasi, a 62-year-old man who was living on the grounds of the St John the Evangelist Church, in Ōtara on January 13 last year.

Today in the Court of Appeal at Auckland, defence lawyer Ms Tu'i challenged the minimum period of imprisonment (MPI) of 17 years handed down to Vea.

Tu'i said what unfolded did not reach a level of brutality or callousness to have engaged section 104(E) of the Sentencing Act.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
Life imprisonment for man who killed Auckland church bell-ringer
Northland murderer Jimmy Akuhata's appeal dismissed
Grace Millane's killer sentenced in Auckland, keeps name suppression
Killer's appeal dismissed: Silapea Momoisea's sentence to remain unchanged

However, she accepted the attack did involve unlawful entry.

The judge erred in finding it was not manifestly unjust to use a MPI of 17 years, she said.

"The MPI of 17 years can be displaced with the guilty plea credit, remorse and cultural factors."

He pleaded guilty at what was effectively his second appearance, first in the High Court, she said.

"Mr Vea admitted his regret, admitted how sorry he was."

Crown prosecutor Briar Charmley said this particular murder demonstrated a "high level of brutality".

The number of wounds, the places targeted on the body, the severity of wounds and weapon used were all relevant, Charmley said.

Advertisement

The attack included a blow to the back of the neck that severed his spinal cord and some other cuts that were bone deep, she said.

"He conducted himself calmly; he ignored the victim's cries for help. He didn't call an ambulance."

When Vea returned with his wife and a priest the victim was still alive.

"We know from that it took his victim a long time to die."

Ueta Vea pleaded guilty to killing Laulimu Liuasi. Photo / Michael Craig
Ueta Vea pleaded guilty to killing Laulimu Liuasi. Photo / Michael Craig

During Vea's sentencing, 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 Vea watched as his life ebbed away, he said.

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

Both men attended the same church with their families and had even worked together to maintain that church property.

Vea began to suspect the bell-ringer was having an affair with his wife in late 2018.

He 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, which was facilitated by a church priest.

An affair was denied, but Vea remained suspicious as the sexual texts continued.

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

Unknown to her, 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.

About 5pm, he left the house and walked 3.7km to the church on Ōtara Rd.

Once there he found a hiding spot to observe Liuasi.

An hour later, Liuasi left his home to ring the church bell and Vea snuck into the house through a window to hide in the kitchen armed with the machete.

When Liuasi returned he was ambushed.

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

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

Struck several times to the back of the neck, 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 nearby wheelie bin, the court heard.

"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 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.

On July 9 last year, in the High Court at Auckland, Ueta Vea was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. Photo / File
On July 9 last year, in the High Court at Auckland, Ueta Vea was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. Photo / File

"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 said it was an aggravating factor that many of Vea's previous convictions related to family violence which began to accumulate in 2005.

"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 was jailed for life for murder.

The Court of Appeal - presided over by Justice France, Justice Clifford and Justice Lang -has reserved its decision.