A former Melbourne chapter Hells Angels bikie boss who killed an Auckland underling soon after his forced relocation to New Zealand, resulting in a seven-hour police standoff, has been found guilty of murder.
Andrew Lamositele-Brown was spending his first Christmas living in New Zealand in almost a decade – having been expelled from Australia as a 501 deportee just months earlier – when he shot Hells Angels prospect Petau Petau to death in the living room of the defendant’s Flat Bush home as his partner and four children slept upstairs.
The 40-year-old, also known as Andrew Tovia Fepuleai, insisted while on the witness stand this week that the shooting had been accidental. But it took jurors in the High Court at Auckland less than an hour to reject that notion – returning an after-hours guilty verdict last night.
Although aware that both men had been affiliated with the Hells Angels, jurors had not been told of the defendant’s deportation from Australia, his criminal history overseas or his high rank within the gang. He was president of the Melbourne-based Darkside chapter when Victoria Police and federal immigration officials targeted him on “character test” grounds two years ago.
Some of those factors, however, may be taken into consideration when Justice Sally Fitzgerald sentences him later this year.
Prosecutors Chris Howard and Sophie Bicknell said at the outset of the trial three weeks ago that Lamositele-Brown had spent Christmas Day 2021 drinking heavily while alone at his Auckland home as his partner and children visited relatives. When his family returned home around 10 that night, his partner was concerned about the effect the alcohol was having on him, she would tell police but later deny during a seemingly reluctant trip to the witness box.
“Merry Christmas, my uso,” Petau texted the defendant around 12.35am, as Christmas Day transitioned into the early hours of Boxing Day.
Neighbours heard the victim’s loud Harley-Davidson motorcycle arriving at the cul-de-sac around 1am. Petau would be dead less than 15 minutes later, with Lamositele-Brown’s terrified family barricading themselves from him in an upstairs bedroom as police began to surround the house. Armed police used a ladder to quietly extract them from the bedroom window hours into the standoff.
According to Lamositele-Brown’s account of that morning, he was again drinking alone and listening to reggae music after his family had gone up to bed. He invited Petau over for drinks after receiving the “Merry Christmas” text and, upon his good buddy’s arrival a few minutes later, it came up in conversation that the defendant had just hours earlier obtained a handgun and a purse full of ammunition. Petau wanted to see the firearm, so Lamositele-Brown pulled it out and began showing off with it, pointing it in his friend’s general direction “gangster style” as the two sat at the kitchen table, he said.
“He was excited and just jumped up like he wanted to have a look and tried to grab it,” the defendant testified. “I reacted to his jumping up. I went back and it just went off.
Lamositele-Brown blamed the person who had given him the gun – a mystery man he refused to identify – for not warning him that it was loaded.
As Petau stumbled away from the kitchen table, collapsing face-first at the foot of the stairs, Lamositele-Brown’s partner and his two teen daughters ran downstairs from their bedrooms and began screaming. His partner tried to wrestle the gun from him as his daughters tried in vain to help Petau but all of their efforts were unsuccessful. His partner retreated after he pointed the gun at her, she said in a police statement but denied having any memory of at trial.
A police negotiator would later call the defendant repeatedly as he sat on the stairs next to the body – firing two more shots into the wall, this time on purpose and out of frustration, he said.
“He f***ed with the wrong c**t,” Lamositele-Brown responded at one point when asked by the negotiator what had happened.
When asked another time, he responded: “Ask my missus.”
Prosecutors said Lamositele-Brown had a history of getting jealous of his partner when drinking and suggested that a mistaken belief she was cheating on him might have been a motive for the shooting, even though his partner had only met Petau in passing on a few occasions.
The defendant would later testify that he was actually referring to the person who gave him the gun – not Petau – when he said “he f***ed with the wrong c**t”. The reference to “ask my missus” had also been taken out of context, he said, suggesting that what he really meant to convey was that police should talk to his partner about it having been an accident.
Defence lawyer Vivienne Feyen, who represented the defendant along with co-counsel Mark Edgar, suggested that the jealous streak was “ancient history” that had only been present at the beginning of their relationship two decades ago, before they settled down and made a family.
More at ease during cross-examination by the defence, the defendant’s partner agreed. She said she had briefly come downstairs to tidy up when she heard Petau’s motorbike outside and had noticed that the men seemed genuinely happy to see each other. After she went back upstairs, she heard laughing and Lamositele-Brown use the word “uso” – Samoan for “brother” – shortly before the shot rang out, she said.
But texts to her sister that night and a police statement after she was extracted from the bedroom window told a different story.
“I was terrified, scared for my life and I thought he was going to shoot me,” she initially told police, explaining that she pushed a mattress up against the bedroom wall after retreating from the struggle over the gun and called 111.
“I could hear Andrew swearing in Samoan downstairs and that made me absolutely terrified,” she was also quoted as telling police.
During his testimony, Lamositele-Brown explained that he had met Petau around June of that year, shortly after moving from Australia with his family and joining the South Auckland chapter of the Hells Angels.
It wasn’t the entire story.
Documents from the Federal Court of Australia indicate that Lamositele-Brown’s deportation appeal had been rejected for the final time in March 2021, almost a year after Victoria Police filed a report to immigration officials suggesting that he would be a good 501 candidate despite his relatively modest list of former convictions.
The term “501″ refers to Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act, which has controversially resulted in the expulsion of thousands of New Zealanders, some of whom had been living in Australia since childhood and considered Aotearoa foreign. While many of those deported were targeted because they were convicted of crimes that resulted in a year or more in prison, immigration officials also targeted patched gang members like Lamositele-Brown who hadn’t served such prison terms.
Law enforcement officials first suspected his involvement with the outlaw motorcycle club in 2016, after he’d been living in Australia for about four years.
“The applicant rose rapidly in the hierarchy of that club,” Justice Duncan Kerr summarised in his Federal Court of Australia judgment. “By October 2018 he had become sergeant-at-arms of its Darkside Chapter. In that position he was responsible for enforcing discipline over that chapter’s members as directed by its then president. In February 2020, the applicant himself became the president of the Darkside Chapter of the Hells Angels.”
Lamositele-Brown’s longest term of imprisonment had been in 2018, when he was convicted for attacking another person, causing facial and rib fractures, while attending a strip club with other Hells Angels members. He was sentenced to three months.
The following year, he was ordered to pay a $750 fine after his conviction for possession of ecstasy and ammunition. The only other offences that followed were traffic-related.
While acknowledging his convictions were “on a relatively minor scale”, they are “indicative of his disrespect for Australia’s laws”, authorities there said.
But more important to authorities seeking to have him deported was his Hells Angels leadership role.
Victoria Police acknowledged the gang has legitimate business interests such as gyms, tattoo parlours, haulage and security companies, but law enforcement said the group is also known for their prominence in the criminal underworld.
“Numerous police and international intelligence agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the ‘big four’ motorcycle gangs, and contend that members carry out widespread violent crimes, including drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, firearms, and extortion, and are involved in prostitution,” the police report on Lamositele-Brown noted.
“As the president of an OMCG [outlaw motor cycle gang] chapter, Mr Fepuleai has effective control over the club and its business interests,” Australia’s then-Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wrote in his October 2020 application to expel the defendant.
“He also has control over all of the members of the Darkside Chapter and has the right to veto decisions made by members concerning club business. Mr Fepuleai can authorise his subordinates, particularly the ‘Sergeant at Arms’, to use violence in dealing with other club members who have disobeyed club rules.
“Taking into account Mr Fepuleai’s high rank and position of authority within the Hells Angels OMCG, I accept Victoria Police’s assessment in their report that Mr Fepuleai ‘uses members of his OMCG as a way for him to avoid detection and any links to illegal activity and to make money for himself and the club.’”
Lamositele-Brown disputed that he used others to avoid detection, with his appeal lawyer arguing it was pure speculation and shouldn’t have been used as a basis for a life-disrupting decision of such magnitude. But the Federal Court rejected the argument, removing the final obstacle from his deportation.
Dutton had noted that Lamosite-Brown’s family life, and the detrimental impact it might have on his children, had weighed against cancelling his visa. But in the end, the government minister decided, the risk to the Australian community was too great.
Dutton noted the Victoria Police report prediction that Lamositele-Brown’s continued Hells Angels leadership could “afford him the opportunity to cause unmeasurable levels of harm” before reaching his own prescient conclusion.
“I find that the Australian community could be exposed to significant harm should Mr Fepuleai engage in further criminal conduct, or other serious conduct through his leadership, membership and association with the Hells Angels OMCG,” Dutton wrote. “I could not rule out the possibility of further criminal or other serious conduct by Mr Fepuleai. The Australian community should not tolerate any risk of further harm.”
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.