501 murder-for-hire convict Sifa Tevita fails to show in court after wild Waikato Porsche chase

By Craig Kapitan, nzherald.co.nz

An Auckland man deported from Australia as a 501 after serving prison time as a teenager for a murder-for-hire plot involving a victim with cerebral palsy is again wanted by police.

This time, it’s for failing to appear in a New Zealand court for a wild 100km police chase in a stolen $249,000 Porsche.

At one point during the hour-long April 2023 pursuit, Sifa Tevita, now 37, had 20 police vehicles following him.

He drove in the wrong direction down the Waikato Expressway when it was busy with school holiday traffic, nearly hit an ambulance, swerved at members of the public and kept going even after two flat tyres fell off the Porsche.

When police finally caught Tevita, he “refused to provide an explanation, choosing instead to urinate in front of them”, according to court documents recently released to the Herald.

Tevita pleaded guilty to burglary, reckless driving and failure to stop for police and had been set for sentencing this week in Auckland District Court, where he faced a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

He was also scheduled to be sentenced for breaching the Returning Offenders Act, which allows Corrections to supervise the reintegration of those returning to NZ after criminal convictions overseas – placing on them parole-like restrictions.

Judge June Jelas instead ordered a warrant for his arrest after he failed to appear for the hearing, with defence lawyer Harvena Cherrington indicating to the judge she had not been able to reach her client.

He remains at-large.

‘Risk to the public’

According to court documents, the crime spree began in affluent Auckland suburb Parnell about 2am on April 16 last year when Tevita and co-defendant Ronald Neilson cased out a gated residence where the 2021 model Porsche 911 C4S and a $50,000 Land Rover Discovery were parked.

They returned at 4am and removed the keys for both vehicles from within the residence.

“The defendant Neilson has driven the Land Rover directly at the security gate, smashing it from its hinges before driving from the property,” states the agreed summary of facts for Tevita’s case.

“The defendant Tevita has followed in the Porsche.”

Neilson has also pleaded guilty but remains at-large after failing to show up for a sentencing last month.

Police spotted Tevita heading towards Hamilton that same day after he attempted to purchase fuel for the sports car at a Waihi petrol station about 7.30am.

He realised police were onto him when they attempted to spike the Porsche’s tyres. When that attempt to stop him didn’t work, police pulled directly behind him with red and blue lights flashing. Tevita sped away.

“The defendant has entered the Waikato Expressway the wrong way before driving south in the northbound lane,” court documents state.

“He proceeded to travel 7km down the wrong side of the Expressway during which time he swerved toward police units travelling northbound and narrowly avoided colliding with an ambulance.”

He then exited the motorway onto Te Rapa Road in Horotiu, driving at an estimated speed of 80km/h despite the two right tyres of the Porsche having completely deflated at that point.

“As the defendant drove south along Te Rapa Rd, he against swerved towards a police unit and regularly travelled on the incorrect side of the road, forcing members of the public to the side of the road,” the police narrative continued.

“At one stage the defendant accessed The Base shopping mall car park, forcing shoppers to take refuge inside the shops, such was the manner of driving.”

Auckland resdient Sifa Tevita is arrested in April 2023 after a police chase involving a stolen $249,000 Porsche that was driven on the wrong side of the Waikato Expressway. Photo / Ashlee GarrettAuckland resdient Sifa Tevita is arrested in April 2023 after a police chase involving a stolen $249,000 Porsche that was driven on the wrong side of the Waikato Expressway. Photo / Ashlee Garrett

He then returned to Te Rapa Rd, continuing to drive on the wrong side in an effort to shake police, the summary of facts states.

He travelled an estimated 80km/h in a 50km/h zone while again swerving towards members of the public, police noted.

“At about this time the two deflated tyres fell off the vehicle, causing the defendant to drive on the rims,” authorities have noted, explaining that he continued to avoid arrest by swerving at police or driving around them on the grass verges before again entering the wrong side of the Waikato Expressway.

“Due to the defendant’s manner of driving and unpredictable behaviour police were required to stop both north and southbound lanes of traffic to reduce the risk to the public,” authorities said.

Tevita continued to drive another 12km, including “extended periods” where he remained on the grass verge, until encountering “a considerable police roadblock” at the Taupiri interchange.

Seeing the trap that lay ahead, Tevita reversed down the motorway then exited between a wire barrier and a roadside fence in an effort to get around the roadblock.

“The defendant managed to drive a further 500m before eventually sliding into a fence, becoming stuck and fleeing from police [on foot],” court documents state.

“When arrested in a nearby paddock the defendant refused to provide an explanation, choosing instead to urinate in front of them.”

‘Not even a panadol’

During a hearing in Hamilton District Court later the same week, Tevita was seen hobbling into the courtroom dock.

He was “not in a good physical state” as a result of the incident, his lawyer at the time, Roger Laybourn, told community magistrate Brenda Midson.

“He has a serious back problem and has advised me that he has not even been provided with a panadol and wants me to raise that [with you],” Tevita’s lawyer said.

“I would like it noted on the file that it does impact on my ability to get coherent instructions from him.

“If a person has a back injury you would think an X-ray would be the minimum until any rational medical decision can be made.”

The magistrate agreed to put a note on the file before remanding Tevita without plea.

The case was later transferred to Auckland District Court.

‘Cruel and merciless’

The Waikato Expressway chase wasn’t the first – or even, arguably, the most bizarre – crime that Tevita has been in the public eye for.

In 2005, at just age 18, he was handed a precedent-setting 18-year prison sentence in a Brisbane courtroom after pleading guilty to slashing the throat of a young man in a wheelchair and stabbing him three times in the back.

The judge stipulated he serve at least 80 per cent of the attempting to kill sentence before eligibility would set in for him to apply for parole.

Tevita was 17 years old at the time of the May 2004 attack, which he said he participated in because victim Michael Birch’s roommate – Benjamin Luke Janz, who also suffered from cerebral palsy – had promised him $500,000 to carry it out.

Birch was left for dead but survived the attack, according to court documents from Australia.

“Mr Birch heard someone running into his bedroom,” the Queensland Court of Appeal recounted while considering if Tevita’s sentence was manifestly excessive.

“A hand came across his face pulling his head back, and he felt his throat being cut. After that, the applicant came back and stabbed him.”

“Are you right to use this?” the victim’s roommate had asked Tevita a short time earlier after handing him a folding knife with a 10cm blade.

“Do it now,” he added.

Janz, who would later receive a 10-year sentence, was described as the more intelligent of the two co-defendants.

“It may be that because of his own disability Janz was unable to carry out the killing himself and so engaged the applicant to do it for him,” the Court of Appeal noted.

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Because of his disability, the victim had been in a wheelchair his whole life and was unable to defend himself, the court also noted.

He called police but was unable to speak due to the neck wound. He then wheeled himself outside his flat – the bloody sight prompting neighbours to call for an ambulance.

“The result for Mr Birch has been tragic,” the Court of Appeal justices wrote.

“Despite his disability, he had previously been able to live an independent life. He was a disc jockey for … a broadcasting system that serves the Children’s Hospital. Remarkably, he was also learning to fly an aeroplane.

“Now he can do neither of these things. Because of injuries to his larynx, he is unable to speak above a whisper. He is at constant risk of choking and has to have his food cut up for him to eat.

“It is painful to cough; he is vulnerable to colds, flu and throat infections; and he suffers continuous back pain from the stabbing inflicted on him. He now requires a full-time carer and his mother has had to resume living with him to look after him.”

In determining if the sentence was manifestly excessive, the court noted that “there is obviously not much to be said in mitigation of the applicant’s terrible deed”, adding that it was “cruel and merciless and carried out for money”.

Youth was a factor to consider, but “it does not require much maturity to know not to commit such an awful offence, even though it is clear from the psychologist’s report that the applicant is lacking in ordinary intelligence and insight”, the Court of Appeal found. It dismissed the appeal.

Tevita and his co-defendant were also ordered in 2008 to pay $75,000 in compensation – the maximum allowable under Queensland law – to the victim, according to the Brisbane Times.

The court was told Tevita moved to Australia in 1999, around age 12.

He left school at age 17 and turned to theft to fuel his drug and alcohol addictions.

By the time of his Waikato arrest, he had been released on parole, deported to NZ and was living in Auckland suburb Wesley, where he worked as a scaffolder, according to the more recent arrest records.

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.

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