A self-described Head Hunters gang member and 501 deportee who hid loaded guns underneath the floorboards of his wardrobe has been sentenced to community service after a judge noted what she said was a remarkable effort to turn his life around.

Calen Morris told authorities one of his reasons for keeping the firearms was because he was rattled and wanted to protect his family after the high-profile murder of his cousin.

Connor Morris, the longtime partner of Millie Elder-Holmes, died after being struck in the side of the head with a sickle-like garden tool during a late-night melee in West Auckland in August 2014. Michael Murray was convicted of murder in August 2015.

Police raided Calen Morris’ home in October 2020, five years after the verdict.

In addition to the two pistols underneath his wardrobe, authorities found ammunition of various calibres throughout the home and a banned high-capacity magazine locked in a safe in his garage.

He faced up to three years’ prison for both counts of unlawfully possessing the two guns and four years’ prison for one count each of unlawfully possessing ammunition and the magazine. In addition, he was charged with possession of cannabis, which carries a sentence of up to three months’ jail.

While he had no criminal history in New Zealand prior to the arrests, he did have convictions in Australia, Waitākere District Court Judge Ophir Cassidy noted during the sentencing hearing.

“Those convictions date back some time ago … and they’re not relevant in my sentencing of you today,” she noted.

Morris spent four months in jail after the arrest, but he then was released on electronically monitored bail to NZ BASS, a live-in rehabilitation clinic that caters to high-risk defendants.

“You really have taken some amazing steps,” the judge said, noting his graduation from the six-month programme late last year and a glowing letter from the programme’s director that referred to a “transformational change” in him. “I want to acknowledge that today.”

Judge Cassidy also noted he passed all random drug tests and continued to live at the rehab facility and volunteer there even though he had graduated.

“In terms of your follow-through with your word, Mr Morris, you’ve done that 10-fold,” the judge said, adding that he seems poised to break a cycle he was born into.

“I’ve seen … you’ve had enough of your previous lifestyle.”

Morris, who attended the hearing via audio-video feed from his West Auckland motorbike repair shop, agreed.

“I’m just doing it for myself and for my son, really,” he said.

The judge asked him to be “a role model of what it is to be a Māori man” for his young son, something she indicated was robbed from the defendant, who didn’t know which iwi he descends from because his own father left before he was born.

She cited a Māori saying: “You are a seed born from greatness.”

“Really, that is the potential within you,” she said. “You have made the change within yourself – no one else, Mr Morris.”

Morris was ordered to serve six months of community supervision, with requirements that he submit to any programmes or counselling deemed fit by NZ BASS or a probation officer. He was also initially barred from using drugs or alcohol, which the judge noted should be easy given his restrictions over the past year.

“I still want to celebrate, though!” Morris responded with a laugh, prompting the judge to remove the alcohol restriction but with a warning that he drink responsibly.

She said she didn’t believe she’d see him back before the court again.

“I believe so too,” he responded.

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