Three strikes case: Repeat prison murderer Siuake Lisiate avoids life without parole

A longtime prisoner who took part in the murders of two fellow inmates – as well as stabbing a third man more than 40 times during a failed hit at the nation’s highest security prison – has been ordered to serve another life sentence.

However, Siuake Lisiate – described by prosecutors as one of New Zealand’s worst violent offenders – won’t have to serve the term without the possibility of parole.

The senior Crips gang member, known in criminal circles as JFK or Just F*****g Krazy, was one of four men accused of stabbing and stomping Blake John Lee to death at Auckland Prison in Paremoremo in March 2020.

He pleaded guilty this year to Lee’s murder, just before his co-defendants’ trial. In June, jurors found his co-defendants not guilty of murder. They found Lopeti Telefoni, who threw the first punch, guilty of manslaughter.

“By any analysis, the recording [of the attack on CCTV] is graphic and deeply disturbing,” Justice Simon Moore said. “The Crown says what you did is a clear act of savage violence. I’m easily satisfied that what you did meets that definition.”

Under New Zealand’s three-strikes law, which remains in place despite the Government having taken steps to repeal it, Moore was required to sentence Lisiate to life in prison without parole unless he found such a sentence would be “manifestly unjust”.

Crown prosecutors did not push hard for life without parole but said it would be appropriate, suggesting a 20- to 22-year minimum period of imprisonment.

Moore ordered a minimum period of imprisonment of 20 years, which would make Lisiate 61 when he was first eligible to apply for parole.

Moore pointed out that he had pleaded guilty, which “must account for something”, and that he had already previously been sentenced to preventative detention for another prison attack, which the judge described as serving a similar purpose.

“A sentence of life without parole would have you dying in jail only to punish you,” Moore said, adding that it could also be considered redundant.”It’s entirely conceivable the parole board may well decide you will never, ever be released.”

Lisiate, 41, joined the Crips at 12, and has been involved in the legal system since he was 14 and was first imprisoned at 17.

He hasn’t seen the outside of a prison since 2003, when he was sentenced for an armed robbery. The last Christmas he spent outside of prison was in 1996, the judge noted. By last year he had racked up 25 convictions, most while on bail or in prison, according to court documents.

In 2009, Lisiate ordered a hit on 23-year-old Tue Faavae, who was strangled to death with a radio power cord in a gang-related revenge killing. He was sentenced for that murder two years later to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 18 years.

Then in May 2018, Lisiate severely injured inmate and notorious double-killer Graeme Burton at New Zealand’s only maximum-security prison.

Burton – who has a prosthetic leg as a result of a police shooting after one of his own murders – was punched without warning while walking along a landing at the prison. Lisiate then ran towards him and began administering his own blows before pulling out a shank and stabbing him more than 40 times.

He did not stop even when Corrections officers arrived, he later said, because he was “having fun”.

Burton survived the attack but required surgery and now has severely diminished vision as a result of a ruptured eye globe.

Lisiate pleaded guilty in September 2019 to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He was sentenced last year to preventive detention with a minimum term of five years, two months’ imprisonment.

Lee’s killing happened just days before Lisiate’s preventative detention sentencing in March 2020.

CCTV footage showed Lisiate carried out most of the violence during the attack, which took place during his one hour of daily exercise. Over the course of three and a half minutes, he stabbed Lee with a shank 37 times while also jumping in the air and stomping on his head 14 times. He could be seen smiling and laughing, and he licked the blade of his shank as Corrections officers arrived.

The licking of the improvised knife “simply adds to the level of depravity and callousness”, Justice Moore said.

Lee had been transferred to the prison just that morning. In a victim impact statement submitted to the court, Lee’s mother said he wasn’t perfect but he was a loving and loyal son.

In court on Thursday, Lisiate wanted to make sure Justice Moore knew that Lee’s killing wasn’t personal. He didn’t know the inmate – only his Mongrel Mob gang affiliation – he said through lawyer Ron Mansfield, QC.

“It occurred as a result of gang tension within the prison,” Mansfield told the judge, acknowledging that the assertion might not necessarily be beneficial to his client.

Mansfield, who represented Lisiate for the Burton attack as well, also addressed the brutality of the latest attack.

“Anyone exposed to footage of this assault would feel sick to their stomach, and that’s acknowledged,” he said.

But it’s a “sad reality” that society bears some of the blame for a prison system that has failed to reform Lisiate during his life behind bars, he argued. There’s still hope his client can be rehabilitated and reformed, and perhaps in the distant future released from prison, if he isn’t ordered to serve life without parole, Mansfield said.

“I am concerned about taking away any sense of hope for this man,” Mansfield said, suggesting it would be a dangerous disservice to the prison community if “there’s no driver for more positive behaviour”.

Lisiate is believed to be one of three inmates now held at the Prisoners of Extreme Risk Unit, a special “prison within a prison” at Paremoremo that was initially established to hold Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant.

Tarrant remains the only person who has ever received a sentence of life without parole in New Zealand.

At the terrorist’s sentencing last year, Justice Cameron Mander noted that the life without parole option was introduced in 2010 “in response to societal concerns regarding repeat violent offenders and particularly serious murders”.

Crown prosecutors David Johnstone and David Wiseman cited the case in submissions to the court concerning Lisiate’s sentence.

“His Honour [Justice Mander] noted that while sentences of life imprisonment without parole will be infrequent, they may be appropriate where the objectives of the Sentencing Act are otherwise not achievable by imposing a minimum period of imprisonment,” they wrote. “Specifically, the Court of Appeal has acknowledged that a life sentence without parole may be necessary to satisfy the societal requirements of accountability, denunciation or deterrence.”

Lisiate, they said, could fit those criteria.

They described him as one of the nation’s “worst repeat violent offenders” that the three-strikes legislation was designed for.

“Mr Lisiate’s current offending was a brutal, callous and clearly premeditated killing,” Johnstone and Wiseman said, adding that he has shown little if any remorse.

“It can be characterised as one of the ‘worst’ murders, with various significantly aggravating features.”

But they also acknowledged that he would already be serving a lengthy, indeterminate sentence regardless of the judge’s decision on Thursday.

“This is an important consideration when determining whether life imprisonment without parole would be ‘wholly disproportionate’ in the circumstances,” they said.

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