Latu Kepu at a previous court appearance. Photo / Christine Cornege
A judge has granted a request from the Department of Corrections to continue imposing restrictions on Killer Beez gang member Latu Kepu, who killed a prison guard in 2010, even though his prison sentence has been completed.
In a judgment recently released to the Herald, Justice Sally Fitzgerald agreed to a five-year extended supervision order which currently includes a daily curfew from 10pm to 6am and an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Kepu, 34, had been in prison for 12 years when he was paroled in April 2021 with just a few months left on his sentence. Because of their imposition on civil liberties, extended supervision orders, or ESOs, are intended to be reserved for only for former inmates who are believed to pose “a real and ongoing risk of further sexual or violent offending”.
Kepu’s history of violence and run-ins with the legal system stretches back two decades, including a 2004 Youth Court conviction for aggravated robbery in which he used a beer bottle to assault a taxi driver, along with more Youth Court convictions for robbery and assault a year later.
He was ordered to serve a sentence of two years and eight months in 2009 for a variety of offences that included kicking a police officer in the head six times, pushing a woman who was seven months’ pregnant to the ground, threatening to kill another woman “because she was Samoan” and kicking another person in the head while punching someone who tried to call police.
Six years and four months was added to his prison term after he pleaded guilty to the May 2010 manslaughter of Springhill Prison guard Jason Palmer, 33, who was attacked as he opened the door to Kepu’s cell at the Waikato facility. The attack was planned after he was placed in segregation.
“Apparently confused as to why he was being segregated, Mr Kepu had a discussion with his supervising prison officer, which agitated Mr Kepu,” court documents state. “He then spent the morning brooding and resolved to assault the officer when the opportunity arose.
“When the officer later returned to his cell, Mr Kepu punched him in the face, causing him to fall back and hit his head. The officer later died as a result of brain injuries.”
In a disputed facts hearing before Kepu was sentenced, Justice Paul Heath found the attack was pre-meditated and the defendant showed a lack of remorse. He noted Kepu had twice been reported to make light of Palmer’s death, including to Palmer’s prison co-workers.
Two years later, Kepu was handed an additional seven-month sentence after pleading guilty to attacks on two guards in a span of 10 days – kicking one in the stomach without warning and kicking the other in the face, causing the officer to lose a tooth.
Thirteen months were added to his sentence in October 2015 and another 21 months were added in October 2017 for inflicting multiple stab wounds on fellow inmates.
Kepu had been on interim special conditions in the year since he was released from prison, but Justice Fitzgerald noted in her judgment he had been arrested multiple times since then for various offences. He had also been accused of threatening to “punch” one parole officer and telling another: “If yous make me breach tonight because I have nowhere to go then yous will find out what happens.” He also is alleged to have threatened in June to shoot a prison guard.
A hearing to consider Corrections’ ESO request was held in the High Court at Auckland in July. Justice Fitzgerald reserved her decision.
In the judgment, she refers to a report by a clinical psychologist that found Kepu to present a “very high risk” of committing violence in the future.
“This evidence includes Mr Kepu’s criminal history, as well as his tendency to engage in explosive anger, persistent threats and physical violence to redress perceived wrongs, gain dominance or control over others, or dissipate strong emotions like anger or resentment,” Fitzgerald noted.
The report also pointed to Kepu’s “continued offending in the controlled prison environment, with Mr Kepu displaying a well-established pattern of abusing and threatening prison staff, often over minor issues”. His attitudes towards violence had been reinforced through his gang associations, the psychologist surmised.
The Parole Board will ultimately decide the conditions of Kepu’s extended supervision order, including whether he will continue to wear an electronic ankle monitor.