An East County man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of his wife on New Year’s Day 2016.
Friends and family said in court that after years of abuse, his wife had finally worked up the courage to leave him.
That's when Hauati "Howard" Fa’anunu shot and killed his wife, Mary, while the couple's six children were in the house. He was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years to life in prison.
Fa’anunu will also spend 36 months in prison for a misdemeanor child endangerment. That includes six months for every child present in the home at the time their mother was killed.
"By committing such a cruel and violent act, he has broken the hearts and lives of hundreds of people including his own children," said Sara Wright, Mary's sister.
Mary Fa’anunu was 34 when she died in the family's home on Melrose Lane in unincorporated El Cajon. She was blindsided in her El Cajon home and shot by the husband she tried to leave after enduring years of mistreatment.
"For 14 years I worried about her -- I was scared for her and her children since the day she said I do," said Heidi Koffman, a friend of the victim.
At the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Mary Fa'anunu's sister, Heidi Wright, said the shooting has torn her family apart.
It was 12:35 a.m. when the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Lakeside Substation received a call from Fa’anunu who claimed he had shot his wife.
Deputies found Mary alone inside the house. She had been shot in the head. Fa’anunu was nowhere to be found and the couple's children had been dropped off with family members.
The defendant turned himself in to authorities soon after the shooting.
A letter written by Fa'anunu’s oldest son was read to the judge. The defendant's son told the court he will never get over what happened to his mother.
He also asked the judge for the maximum sentence for his father who showed no emotion.
"A wise man once said regarding fatherhood, the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother," said Elisabeth Newbold, the mother of the victim. "We can deduce from this, the worst thing a man can to for his children, is to murder their mother."
When the shooting first happened, neighbors told NBC 7 the couple had marital problems.
The family was active in an East County Mormon church, neighbors said, and Hauati worked for a local water district.
One friend described the victim as the best mom.
"She was selfless," Emily McMackin said in a previous interview. "She was so giving. You'd call her and needed anything and she would be there."
"She would be there to talk, come by. She was an amazing mother. She loved those kids furiously and would do anything for them and to protect them," said McMackin.
Prosecutors said Fa’anunu will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.