It's been less than three years since Raymond and James Fleet were bludgeoned to death. Now one of his killers is only weeks away from walking free. Journalist Kelly Makiha finds out why and asks how Raymond's sister and James' mother feels about it.
One of the men jailed for killing Raymond and James Fleet will be released from prison next month, less than three years into a six-year jail term.
Mikaere James Hura has been granted parole and has promised the parole board he will leave behind his previous life of prospecting for the Black Power gang.
Hura was jailed after a jury found him guilty of two counts of manslaughter.
The Fleets were taken to the end of Mamaku's remote Cecil Rd, which leads into the dense bush, and savagely beaten with a spade in August 2017.
They were first reported missing by family members before police found their bodies a few days later.
The Fleets' deaths came after Raymond Fleet became involved in a methamphetamine manufacturing enterprise which did not return the yield those who ordered it anticipated.
Senior members of the Mangu Kaha chapter sought retribution against Raymond Fleet over suspicions that some methamphetamine had gone missing.
There were three other offenders involved in their killings.
Martin Hone was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years after pleading guilty to two counts of murder.
Zen Pulemoana was found guilty of murdering James, but not guilty of murdering Raymond. Instead, he was found guilty of manslaughter in relation to Raymond's death. He was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 14 years.
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At the jury trial, it was emphasised James Fleet had not taken part in manufacturing the drug but had been "in the wrong place at the wrong time" when he and his uncle were forced into the vehicle that took them to the place where they were to lose their lives.
Hura's parole board decision said Hura was prospecting for the Black Power at the time of killings and was therefore "required" to help senior members. He was present at the time of the beatings which led to the Fleets' deaths.
Hura told the parole board he feared the consequences if he didn't go and accepted he knew violence was likely as he referred to a previous beating he had incurred at the hands of Hone for not following orders.
Among the changes he has made while in prison was the decision to sever all contact and association with the gang. He also said he would not return to Rotorua once released.
The board's decision said it was satisfied he was committed to that decision.
Among the release conditions were that he not enter Mamaku or Rotorua, that he not consume drugs, alcohol or psychoactive substances and that he not associate with anyone from Black Power or associated chapters.
Before his release, he was also to have a restorative justice meeting with Bronwyn Fleet, James' mother and Raymond's sister.
Bronwyn Fleet told the Rotorua Daily Post this week she was disappointed he was being released so soon.
"It feels like a very short amount of time to acknowledge the loss of two lives. I know on a logical level that it's not a reflection of the value of what we have lost but it does hurt my heart when I think of James and how much we love and miss him."
Bronwyn Fleet said she hoped she had a chance to have the restorative meeting with Hura, despite hearing this week it had been cancelled as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
"I hope he can make a decent life for himself and his family. He now has the chance to do that. I wish James had the same chance."
Meanwhile, Richard Te Kani, who was sentenced to 15 years' jail after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of both men, being an accessory after the fact of murder and manufacturing methamphetamine, has lost his appeal to have his sentence reduced.
No minimum period of parole was ordered, meaning Te Kani would have to serve his full sentence.
The appeal decision said Te Kani's lawyer, Andy Schulze, said Hura had no knowledge a weapon was present because he wasn't there when the men were killed.
He said Te Kani's position as a senior gang member was given too much weight.
"To view that status as an aggravating factor for both sets of offending amounted to double-counting given there was no evidence Mr Te Kani assumed a lead role in the violence," he said.
The appeal decision said Schulze also argued Hura had attempted to intervene in an earlier violent episode.
But Justice Simon Moore said although Te Kani was not present at the time the Fleets were "bludgeoned to death", he was still a "central and active figure" throughout the events.
Justice Moore said although the sentence was "stern", it couldn't be said that a sentence of 15 years' imprisonment was manifestly excessive.
Bronwyn Fleet told the Rotorua Daily Post she was glad the appeal was dismissed.
"I'm particularly happy that in their judgment they rejected the suggestion that he tried to help James and Ray. That argument from his lawyer was very hard for us to hear so it's a relief that the judges recognised him for what he really was and weren't persuaded by his version of what part he played."