Screenshot 2023 11 23 At 9.59.55 AM

Peter Rasmussen death: Murder trial begins for Lasalosi Vaitohi, Ethan Jessop and Daziea Huia

  • News

Imprisoned South Auckland gang leader Lasalosi Vaitohi was so incensed by the robbery of a drug house on his turf, prosecutors allege, that he immediately set about orchestrating violent retribution – unconcerned it would days later result in the shooting death of the intended target’s 75-year-old grandfather.

“It gives us a chance to test out our soldiers,” he was recorded saying on a prison phone, jurors in the High Court at Auckland were told today as Vaithohi’s murder trial began. “Test out our soldiers at the same time as teaching the world a lesson.”

The Auckland South Correction Facility recordings are expected to play a major role in the weeks-long trial for Vaitohi and fellow Crips 23 gang members Ethan Jessop, Daziea Leslie Huia and Amit Singh, all of whom are allegedly featured on the calls.

Well-known rugby league mentor Peter Rasmussen bled to death in the kitchen of his Ōtāhuhu home on a Sunday afternoon in August 2021, before he could reach his landline phone to call for help. Moments earlier, prosecutors allege, Jessop had shot him in the leg with a recently acquired shotgun he nicknamed “Big Bad Beth” after the 75-year-old had tried to shoo the defendant from his doorstep.

“You might think, ‘what had he done to deserve this?’” Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said during his opening address today. “The answer is absolutely nothing.”

The original target, Kayes said, was the victim’s grandson Zharn Rasmussen, a Killer Beez member known on the street as “Obey” who was living at the same house while on community detention. He and girlfriend Irene Ting had robbed the nearby Crips drug house of methamphetamine a week earlier, prosecutors said.

The younger Rasmussen should have also been home that day, since Auckland had just gone into strict lockdown due to the emergence of the Covid-19 Delta variant. Instead, prosecutors said, his grandfather was home alone and “caught in the crossfire of a gang dispute that he played no part in”.

“Get the boys to pay his little house a visit tomorrow,” Vaitohi was allegedly recorded saying in one of the calls, which prompted Singh to respond: “Yeah, but, like, the grandparents live over there.”

“I don’t care,” Vaitohi is alleged to have responded. “I don’t give a f***.”

Vaitohi, Jessop and Huia are all charged with Rasmussen’s murder. Prosecutors said today that Jessop pulled the trigger, Huia arranged for a car and Vaitohi did the planning. Singh is not charged with murder, but prosecutors said recordings will show that he and Vaitohi were part of a conspiracy to injure Ting, who died of natural causes before the plan could be carried out.

“Tell her when we catch her we’re going to cut her hair baldy, bro … and tattoo a big f***ing c*** on her face,” Vaitohi was allegedly recorded saying in one conversation with Singh. “She’s the first person I’m going to smash, bro, straight up.”

The recorded conversations refer repeatedly to “ta’ahine”, which is Tongan for “girl” but – according to prosecutors – also a poorly disguised code for guns. Vaitohi allegedly said he would arrange to get ta’ahine so they could “thing up” the younger Rasmussen or the house.

In one call with a person who isn’t on trial, prosecutors say Vaitohi was told when he inquired about a gun there was one available but “it’s only going to come out for a 187″. The Crips 23 gang are an Auckland offshoot of the American Crips gang, which started in California. It’s common slang among criminals overseas to refer to murder as “187″ – as in Section 187 of the California Penal Code.

“Yeah, yeah, tell him yeah,” Vaitohi allegedly responded to the 187 comment. “We need this done.”

On the eve of the shooting, prosecutors said more conversations were recorded between Vaitohi and Jessop, the alleged shooter.

“Everything’s all sorted for tomorrow, and then I’m going to go, I’m under the radar for four days,” Jessop allegedly said.

“Just kick back tonight, cuz, cos you’re working tomorrow,” Vaitohi responded, according to the Crown.

Lawyers for Jessop and Singh declined to address the jury with an opening statement today, but they will have another opportunity to do so after the Crown finishes presenting evidence. Vaitohi, who is representing himself, did not appear in court, asking Justice David Johnstone to tell jurors he was feeling unwell.

Huia’s lawyer, Anoushka Bloem, pointed out her client was only 18 at the time and noted prosecutors are not suggesting he was present when Peter Rasmussen was shot. He did have conversations with Vaitohi about going to the house, but that was an earlier plan that didn’t involve guns and it never happened, she said.

“He was never part of the plan to shoot at anyone,” Bloem added. “He did not know that anyone would be shot that day.”

Prosecutors are expected to start calling their first witnesses when the trial resumes on Monday.