12 Jul 2021

Fatal shooting of Matthew Hunt: Man pleads guilty to murder of police constable

5:56 pm on 12 July 2021

A man has pleaded guilty to the murder of Auckland police constable Matthew Hunt in June last year, during a routine traffic stop in Massey.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Meanwhile, a second officer who was shot in the leg and seriously injured can today be named as David Goldfinch.

RNZ can reveal 25-year-old Eli Epiha pleaded guilty to Hunt's murder and dangerous driving last Wednesday.

A court order meant the plea could not be reported until now.

Epiha denies the attempted murder of Goldfinch and he is on a trial before a jury of seven men and five women in the High Court in Auckland.

Justice Venning told the jury that they must not assume because he was guilty of murdering Hunt, that he was automatically guilty on the attempted murder

"The crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Epiha deliberately shot Constable Goldfinch and at the time he shot him, he intended to kill him," he said.

The High Court heard that fourteen bullets were fired, mid morning, on a Massey street in June last year.

Constable Matthew Hunt and his colleague David Goldfinch had been out in a patrol car, and they had signalled a purple Toyota Verossa with an alert out on it to stop.

Crown laywer Alysha McClintock said instead of pulling over driver Eli Epiha sped down Reynella Drive, lost control, hit a parked Toyota Prius, and then climbed out holding a semi-automatic weapon.

Constable Goldfinch stepped out of the passenger door of his car into gunfire.

McClintock said the officer was shot at 10 times as he fled to a nearby Suzuki for shelter, yelling at Epiha to stop.

"The bullets pursued him even as he ran for what he believed was his life. Despite his attempts to take shelter and to run Constable Goldfinch was hit four times with a bullet striking his hip, two going through his leg and one hitting his boot," she said.

McClintock told jurors officer Hunt was not as lucky, as she showed drone images of the crash scene and then photos and a video of Hunt lying on the ground.

She said he was shot at four times as he got out of the police car, leaned over to the ground and did not get back up.

Slain police officer Matthew Hunt.

Matthew Hunt. Photo: NZ Police / Facebook

Hunt was hit in the back, she said, without "a chance" of survival.

Epiha did not dispute the fact he murdered Hunt, and also admitted that he shot and wounded Goldfinch.

But his lawyer Mark Edgar told the jury the shots fired at Goldfinch were not meant to be fatal.

He also noted that Epiha had taken full responsibility for Hunts death and his reckless driving.

"It's a very black and white case, says the crown, the number of shots, the dispassionate way they say he turned away. All of those things, they say, you can infer what's in his mind," he said.

"I simply ask you to pause at this stage because the opportunity to have executed that man would have happened at the very beginning."

McClintock argued Epiha formed an intention to kill the officers in the police car, then acted with "a level of persistence and determination".

"The intent held by Mr Epiha while committing the exact same acts must have been the same. It is inconceivable that Mr Epiha held different intents in relation to each officer," she said.

Two witnesses - some of the first backup police officers to arrive at the scene - described shouting and chaos, as they discovered the casualties on Reynella Drive.

Constable Ilye Kokine found Hunt unresponsive and gave him CPR.

He told the court there was no sign of the person - or people - responsible.

"Things are flying in my head, all these ideas. Basically, I have to make a decision. At this stage I have no idea who the offender is. There's a police officer lying there, there's another person bleeding, I'm not sure what his status is," he said.

Natalie Bracken, 31, is also on trial, charged with being an accessory to murder by allegedly driving a getaway car.

McClintock said Bracken was in a house nearby - and was among many neighbours who came outside after hearing the crash and the gunfire.

The jury was shown of a video of a woman, allegedly Bracken, wearing a bra, jeans and bare feet, hopping behind the wheel of a silver Mazda.

Lying metres away, motionless, on the road is a man who is said to be Hunt.

Another man - allegedly Epiha - also gets in the car holding a gun, and they drive off.

McClintock said Bracken told police she had no choice, and drove Epiha away because she was scared of him.

But she told the jury Bracken's actions allowed Epiha to evade arrest.

"What Ms Bracken did is she then helped Mr Epiha get away from the scene of the shootings," she said.

The trial is set down for three weeks.

Natalie Bracken on trial in the Auckland High Court.

Natalie Bracken on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

'There is no higher price' - outpouring of grief following Hunt's death

Matthew Hunt, a Waitematā police officer, was 28 years old when he was fatally shot.

His death prompted an outpouring of grief from the public and police around the country.

A private funeral for whānau, friends and colleagues was held at Eden Park in Auckland about three weeks after the shooting.

The family agreed to have the ceremony livestreamed after overwhelming support from the nation.

Police officers performed a haka at his funeral and a number of other tributes were paid, including the Massey community creating a flower wall at the Henderson Police Station.

One week on from the shooting, police around the country held a one minute's silence in honour of their slain colleague.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster ordered all police flags to be flown at half-mast throughout the day.

"A week on from an event none of us ever want or should experience, police is pausing to remember the ultimate sacrifice of one of our own," Coster said.

At the Royal New Zealand Police College in Porirua, staff and recruits held a wreath laying and in Wellington, Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha led a small group of officers by the flagpole outside the National Headquarters.

At the time of his death, Hunt had recently moved to the Waitematā Road Policing Team, after two years as a frontline officer at Ōrewa and Helensville Stations.

Waitematā District Commander Superintendent Naila Hassan was emotional speaking to media after Hunt's death.

She fought back the tears as she said Hunt was highly respected by his peers.

"Matt is an outstanding police officer, he passionately expressed his desire to serve his community," she said.

"He was killed serving his country, there is no higher price.

"We're absolutely devastated by the loss of our colleague and our brother Matt. Matt's death is the ultimate sacrifice of a police officer working to keep our country safe.

Mother's petition for harsher punishment for those who murder police

Following his death, Hunt's mother began calling on the government to enforce harsher punishments for those who murder members of the police.

In December 2020, Diane Hunt presented a petition that gathered almost 40,000 signatures to Parliament, asking for law changes so anyone convicted of murdering an officer gets a mandatory life sentence without parole.

She implored politicians to make changes so her son did not die in vain.

"The reason for my petition is simple, Matthew's death is a sobering reminder of the daily sacrifice our police officers make to ensure we can continue to live our lives in the manner in which we are accustomed."

Police Minister Poto Williams did not commit to enacting the changes but said the government was working to reduce gun crime.