More than two years after the murder of Whangārei man Haze Angelo Peihopa his family are still fighting for justice, as those involved in his death continue to keep their anonymity.
For mum Arnaka Peihopa and her wife Talea Cooper, the death of their son has inspired them to push for justice, appealing the sentence handed to their boy’s killer.
Since Haze’s death, the duo have also joined Whangarei Stand Up – a group against violence in the community.
Described as funny and hardworking, 23-year-old Haze (Ngāpuhi) died on June 13, 2021 following a brawl on Whangārei’s main street.
The 22-year-old man who fatally stabbed Haze was convicted of murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison – the first time a murder conviction has not garnered a life sentence in Northland.
The killer’s younger brother, now aged 20, kicked Haze in the head after the stabbing and was convicted of injuring with intent.
Due to the age of the younger offender, the duo were given name suppression when the charges were first brought to the court, but that was two years ago and now the family want it lifted.
Arnaka said the family asked Crown Law to appeal the 18-year sentence saying it should have been a life sentence.
Cooper, said it felt unfair the murderer got discounts because of his age and tough upbringing.
The younger brother also appealed against his conviction and his name suppression ending, meaning neither brother can be named for now.
The matter was brought before the Court of Appeal in June, with the judge’s decision expected in September.
Going to the appeal Wellington was just the latest in a series of harrowing court experiences, said Arnaka, which included watching the painful CCTV footage of the fight and then fatal stabbing of her son.
Despite the horror of watching the footage, the family now feel they have answers about what happened to Haze that night, including being able to see he did not start the fight, she said.
“I felt like the knife went through the whole lot of us … [But] I would rather know than spend the rest of my life not knowing.”
Now that time has passed, and the emotions are not so raw, the family feel ready to talk about him for the first time.
Arnaka describes Haze as a social butterfly, with a great sense of humour, whom people gravitated towards despite his towering size.
He grew up in Auckland’s North Shore, attending Glenfield College where he was sporty – getting into gridiron, kapa haka, rugby and boxing.
His sister Keita Karena said Haze was also in the Services Academy – Defence Force training for youngsters.
“He was the biggest guy in the room, who had such a heart of gold,” she said. “You always leave him laughing – he would light up the room.”
Karena said he was very family-oriented and helped all his siblings feel protected.
Haze later moved up to Whangārei, becoming a forestry worker, and hunting and gathering seafood in his spare time.
“He loved diving,” Arnaka said. “He was like a seal, he could flip around and turn.”
Cooper said one of her fondest memories of her stepson was watching him hold his young niece.
“He could hold her in one hand … He was awkward like he was going to break her.”
Haze loved the freedom of working in forestry and had just started renting with his partner, with hopes of soon starting a family, Cooper said.
In court, tensions were high between the Peihopa family and the family of the accused, with members from both sides having to leave the courtroom.
Arnaka said it would be helpful if courtrooms had more space to physically separate such families.
She would also love to see more encouragement for people to plead guilty earlier on, rather than going through a trial.
Despite everything, Arnaka believed her son could’ve been friends with the two brothers had they met under different circumstances – such was his ability to relate to people.
They are administrators of the group’s social media page and have got involved in the group’s demonstrations.
Arnaka said she wanted to see people look after Whangārei more and care for each other more.
They would also like to see more services for youth, adults who are struggling and homeless people.