Three Tongan men jointly charged with the murder of south Auckland-based Tongan woman Meliame Fisi’ihoi are back in court after a year of the murder case being aborted “due to a range of issues”.
The hearing, before High Court judge Justice Grant Powell and a jury has been set down for six weeks and is due to hear evidence from over 80 witnesses.
Brothers Viliami and Falala’anga Momooni Iongi, together with their cousin Manu Iongi, are jointly charged with murdering Meliame Fisi’ihoi in January 2020, Stuff reported.
Viliami and Falala’anga Iongi are also charged with another shooting a month earlier, that left a man with serious injuries to his abdomen.
The report said, the three have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are on trial at the High Court in Auckland.
In her opening address on Monday, the Crown prosecutor Natalie Walker said some of Fisi’ihoi’s neighbours heard knocking in the direction of her house. Another heard someone calling out “are you home” before a single gunshot rang out.
Another neighbour heard two sets of footsteps running down the road before two car doors opened and closed, and a car drive off at speed.
Walker said the police were called and two officers armed themselves and approached the house.
They could see a hole the size of a cricket ball in the front window and traces of blood on the broken glass.
One officer peered in the curtained window and could see an arm resting on the sofa. Despite making a lot of noise and calling out, there was no response.
Walker said the officers went in through the back door, calling out as they did so, but again, there was no response.
Inside the living room they found Meliame Fisi’ihoi lying face down on the sofa. She had died from a single shotgun wound to her head at close range.
Walker said the officers found two other people in the house – Meliame Fisi’ihoi’s husband of 31 years and her father. But both men slept through the shooting and only woke when police were inside the house.
Police investigations found the mother of five had a good relationship with her friends, work colleagues and family. Meliame Fisi’ihoi would sometimes sleep in the lounge if she was watching television late at night.
Only one of her five children “caused the family concern”. Her eldest son, Stephen, lived in a portable cabin on the front lawn but had not been home on the night his mother was killed.
But six weeks prior to the Meliame Fisi’ihoi death, there had been another shooting.
Walker said Stephen Fisi’ihoi had been involved in sourcing a shotgun for Falala Iongi in exchange for 3.5g of methamphetamine.
Walker said Stephen Fisi’ihoi was handed the meth and returned with a double barrel shotgun. But Falala Iongi was not happy with the deal and wanted his meth back. Stephen Fisi’ihoi said that wouldn’t be possible.
Walker said the deal had caused bad blood. Stephen Fisi’ihoi sent a threatening video on social media. Days later Falala and his brother Viliami turned up to his cabin.
Stephen Fisi’ihoi was home with two friends, one of whom was Siaosi “George” Vuna. Walker said Vuna tried to reason with the Iongi brothers and offered to settle his friend’s debt but Viliami Iongi emerged with a shotgun.
Walker said Viliami Iongi fired a shot at Vuna who decided to charge towards the gunman. Viliami shot him in the abdomen and groin area, leaving Vuna requiring surgery.
Detectives managed to match the shotgun shells from the earlier shooting to the later killing of Meliame Fisi’ihoi. The shell brand, wadding and the pellet sizes all matched.
Walker said detectives were also later able to track the movements of Falala Iongi’s distinctive black BMW with a faulty indicator as it made its way into and out of the Māngere area at the time of Meliame Fisi’ihoi’s death.
And then a close family member came forward. Walker said the man was visited by the Iongis on the night Meliame Fisi’ihoi was killed.
Walker said the family member, who has been granted immunity from prosecution by the Solicitor General, will tell the court the three men turned up and asked him to hold on to a gun but “to watch out as it was hot”.
The man hid the shotgun in the ceiling of his home before it was collected the following day.
Walker said while Crown’s case was circumstantial, taken together the evidence was strong.
Lawyers for the defendants each gave a brief opening.
Falala Iongi’s lawyer Baden Meyer described the Crown’s case as a “good story” but said his client denies all the charges. He encouraged the jurors to consider all the evidence carefully and with an open mind.
Viliami Iongi’s lawyer, Claire Farquhar, said the trial was “quite complex” and there was a lot of evidence to come but none of it included eyewitness or CCTV evidence of the shooting of Meliame Fisi’ihoi.
Manu Iongi’s lawyer, Katie Hogan, reminded the jurors that the only witness who put her client anywhere near the shooting was a man who had reasons to lie and implicate others.
The trial, before Justice Grant Powell and a jury, has been set down for six weeks and is due to hear evidence from over 80 witnesses.