Mistaken identity murder: Police identify suspects in ‘execution style’ death of Tauranga man David Kuka

Police investigating the murder of David Kuka – an innocent man who was the victim of mistaken identity – are circling a specific pool of suspects believed to have committed the “execution style” slaying.

Today marks the third anniversary of Kuka’s death, a 52-year-old father of four, who was shot close to midnight on the evening of February 11, 2018, in the Tauranga suburb of Gate Pa.

Detectives working on the inquiry, who described the murder as “brutal” and his killers as “cowards”, still remain confident of solving the case despite the passage of time.

Detective Sergeant Paul Barron said the police were committed to holding Kuka’s killers to account, but he was unable to share much publicly as the investigation was ongoing.

However, he did reveal that the investigation had narrowed down to focus on a specific group of individuals.

“Suspects have been identified but unfortunately I can’t outline publicly the number,” said Barron. “We are committed to bring closure to the family of David if possible.”

NZME has previously revealed that the police believe Kuka was mistakenly killed in retaliation for the death of a Mongrel Mob member who was shot dead several weeks earlier.

Lance Wayne Waite, 58, died from his injuries in Tauranga Hospital and the next day, police arrested Colin Richard Jeffries-Smith and charged him with murder.

Jeffries-Smith, 28, admitted pulling the trigger but was acquitted of murder after a six-week High Court trial in 2019. The jury found him guilty of manslaughter instead.

Waite was the sergeant-at-arms for the Notorious chapter of the Mongrel Mob who had taken, or “taxed”, Jeffries-Smith’s car after a drug deal gone wrong.

He shot Waite, he said, in self-defence in a pre-emptive strike in fear of what the gang member would do.

The explanation was accepted by the jury, but rejected by the trial judge, Justice Mark Woolford, who sentenced Jeffries-Smith to 11 years in prison for the manslaughter of Waite and other drug offending.

Waite and Kuka were living above a second-hand store in Greerton, and the police theory is that someone seeking revenge for Waite’s death targeted the wrong person.

“David wasn’t always a saint but he had turned his life around. We believe it’s a case of mistaken identity and there are people out there who know what happened,” Detective Inspector Lew Warner previously told NZME.

“We’d urge them to do the right thing and tell us what they know.”

People might not know Kuka’s name, but they’d recognise his face.

Tall and rangy, with long dark hair, the 52-year-old was a well-known figure in downtown Tauranga where he’d walkwith his first raised to the sky, pointing to heaven.

Wearing a leather vest with a cross on the back, Kuka would spend his weekend nights busking with his guitar and singing about his saviour.

“Dad was a very loud and proud Christian,” his daughter Te Kimioranga Kuka told NZME in 2019.

“He really cared about other people. People would remember him, if they stop to think. We miss him heaps.”

• Anyone with information is encouraged to call Detective Sergeant Paul Barron on (07) 577 4384 or the police non-emergency 105 phone number.

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