Despite spending 17 years in New Zealand, a man imprisoned for murder will be deported upon his release.

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When he is released from jail, a man who carried out a deadly assault on an Auckland partygoer will be exiled to Samoa.

Esau Vailagilala was 19 years old when he tackled John Li’a to the ground following a birthday party in Mt Roskill in 2011.

He was joined by two other men, and they used weapons to strike and stab the man, who died as a result of his injuries.

Vailagilala, now 28, arrived in New Zealand in 2009 via his aunt’s adoption.

His twin brother is among the family members he would leave behind in New Zealand after he is released from his 13-year sentence for murder in 2026 and deported.

The immigration and security tribunal heard from the twin about their unique relationship, with the twin claiming he felt that a piece of him had gone missing after his brother was imprisoned in 2013.

Identical twins, according to a psychologist, “as similar to each other as two people can be […] They always claim that having an identical twin is “like having a built-in best friend for life.” [Vailagilala and his twin] had lived their entire lives together before his imprisonment. Their entire lives together have clearly resulted in them being physically and mentally very similar.”

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By the time the appellant is released from prison in 2026, he would have served almost 17 years in New Zealand.

The tribunal ruled that his close family links here amounted to exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature but said that had to be balanced against the gravity of his crime.

After his trial, the sentencing judge said it was clear he had started the 2011 attack by tackling the man to the ground before his co-defendants joined in. “It was a nasty, murderous assault and it was three on to one. It continued through and beyond a stage where [the victim] would have been totally unable to defend himself having been overwhelmed by serious force used against him.”

The tribunal ruled it was not unduly harsh or unfair for him to be deported.

“In the appellant’s case, murder is a very serious crime and his offending was a serious example of its type, which he committed within two years of his arrival in New Zealand.”


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