Pair sentenced after death of Gisborne man Davis Colin Phillips

“A day no one should ever go through. A phone call no one should ever have to answer. A broken voice no mother should ever have to listen to – came from one of my sons.”

Verbeana Reeves’ hands shook but her voice was strong in the courtroom. It was silent except for the quiet, tearful sniffs of the people packed in the public gallery, and the woman in the dock who had fatally stabbed Reeves’ brother.

She was one of five devastated family members who read out victim impact statements in the High Court at Wellington this morning during the sentencing for two people following the death of Gisborne man Davis Colin Phillips.

Damelza Hohipa, who admitted Phillips’ manslaughter, and Toetu Falemanu Tui Saili, who had pleaded guilty to injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, have been sent to prison for their parts in Phillips’ death.

Loved ones described Phillips as a hard worker, a man with a “heart of gold”, an experienced hunter and gatherer who knew how to live off the land. A man who would give his world to someone in need just to see a real smile on their face, even when he had nothing.

Their grief was palpable as they faced Hohipa and Tui Saili across the room, each swearing they would never forgive the pair for their actions in January 2020.

The night before his death, Phillips had travelled to Wainuiomata with his partner, Alexia Kaukau, to visit Kaukau’s terminally ill mother. She told him to go visit his brother, and he kissed her goodbye and left.

“I can still feel his last kiss on my lips,” she said in her victim impact statement.

Kaukau still blames herself, thinking she should have told Phillips to stay with her at her mother’s house. If she had, she wrote in her statement, she wouldn’t have woken in the morning to a voicemail from his brother stating just three world-ending words: “Cole is dead”.

Phillips had attended a party that night, during which a fight broke out between him and Saili. It is not known what they were fighting about, Justice Simon France said.

Phillips was forced out to his car, and got into the vehicle only for Saili to follow and start fighting him again.

Hohipa was “scared and upset by the fighting” and went inside to grab a knife. She came back to the car and stabbed Phillips in the chest.

Saili began to leave but when Phillips shouted something at him, he returned and began chasing Phillips down the street, Justice France said.

Phillips fell, and Saili stomped on his head multiple times before leaving. Phillips died at the scene.

Justice France said Hohipa’s decision to stab Phillips was “clearly an overreaction to the situation” but was also out of character. A psychiatric report revealed she had PTSD from abuse throughout her life, which affected her capacity to think through her actions properly when distressed.

She has no history of violence.

Hohipa’s lawyer, Mike Antunovic, said his client was “just so very sorry” and accepted full responsibility for her actions.

Saili also suffered from PTSD and “was suffering intense symptoms of that illness on the night of the offending,” his lawyer, Christopher Stevenson said.

The Crown have accepted they cannot prove Saili knew Phillips had been stabbed when he chased him down and stomped on his head.

Justice France said Saili had “little insight” into his offending and presented an ongoing risk.

He allowed a 30 per cent discount to Hohipa’s sentence for her life circumstances and her overlapping psychiatric and psychological disorders. He also gave a discount for her guilty plea, bringing her end sentence to three years and four months in prison.

Saili was sentenced to two years and three months in prison.

Phillips’ family made noises of dismay when the sentences were read out.

Phillips’ daughter Lani Phillips said reading the facts of the killing made her blood boil.

“You stabbed my father like a pig and left him there to die,” she said in court.

She swore the family would never forgive the pair.

“When you look at me today, you will see my father’s face. This is a face I wear with pride.

“He was my dad. My knowledge in life, my calmness, my friend in the hardest times, my king. The first man I loved, and someone who I’d call if I was down and out.

“I want you to remember that each time you hug your whanau you do so with the same hands that took the life of my father.”

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