21 Jul 2021

Eli Epiha: 'My intention was to just get away'

5:24 pm on 21 July 2021

The man who murdered police officer Matthew Hunt has defended himself in the High Court, claiming he could have killed a second officer if he wanted to.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court.

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

A jury has heard evidence from Eli Epiha, who admits murdering Hunt and reckless driving after fleeing a routine traffic stop last June - but denies the attempted murder of officer David Goldfinch.

Epiha said he was on a mission to scare gang members away from the house of his "distressed" brother-in-law on 19 June, and had two guns including a Narinko semi-automatic in his Toyota Verossa.

He said he saw a police car following him on Reynella Drive in Massey and put his foot down because he didn't want to stop.

A rubbish truck pulled out and Epiha said he braked heavily to avoid a head on collision.

"That's when the car started going into a 180 degree slide. It ended up smashing into the back of a parked car. It ended up sideways... facing the direction I had just come from," he said.

"I tried to gap it… the car was taking ages. It wasn't moving very far. It was broken… so I parked it in the nearest driveway."

He said his first instinct was to "get out and run, gap it" but it was too late.

As Epiha got out of the car, he said a police officer "came in hot" on foot.

"He said something to me. Like 'I'm police, stop, show me your hands'…I reached back into the car and grabbed the gun."

"I said get in your car and f*** off. I told him to f*** off quite a few times."

Epiha said the officer didn't leave, so he turned the gun away and fired a shot into the trees.

"If I wanted to kill him I would have killed him straight away instead of firing a warning shot," he said.

"My intention was to just get away. To gap it."

Epiha admits firing more shots as officer David Goldfinch ran and hid behind a four-wheel-drive, dropped to the ground to hide, and then ran to a house for shelter but said none of those bullets were meant to hit or kill him either.

"It was kind of towards him. But not aimed at him. It was kind of behind him, and down, to keep him running," he said.

He said he "can't explain" why he shot so many times.

Epiha admits shooting at another police officer, and killing him, before asking for help from bystanders on the street.

However he refused to answer questions about the murder of Hunt under cross-examination today, claiming that wasn't the intention of the trial.

Epiha denies he threatened the woman that eventually drove him away.

That contrasts with the 'threats' referenced by Natalie Bracken - the accused getaway driver who denies being an accessory after the fact of murder.

In an interview recorded the day after the shooting and played to the jury today, a tearful Bracken sits opposite Detective Sergeant Ashley Matthews.

Natalie Bracken on trial in the Auckland High Court.

Natalie Bracken. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

She tells him she was having coffee and a cigarette at a Reynella Road house when she heard a car crash and ran outside, across the road, to a man who'd been injured.

She recalls seeing a "big dude" with long plait, a camo t-shirt and a familiar face, firing a gun at two officers who were trying to get away.

Bracken told the interviewing officer he was shooting, at times, from less than two metres away.

"There were just heaps of big bangs," she said.

She looked away briefly, then saw one of the officers on the ground, lying on his back.

"And then the shooter has come back up to him?" asked Matthews.

"Yup. And shot him again"

Earlier in the trial, the jury saw footage recorded by a nearby resident, which appeared to show Bracken leaving Reynella Drive in a silver Mazda, with the gunman in the passenger seat.

In the interview, Bracken tells the officer it's her ex-boyfriends car, and she drove the gunman because he threatened her.

As she ran across the road to retrieve her phone, she said he told her to get him out of there.

Bracken told the officer she was scared and didn't want him to keep shooting, so she retrieved the keys and got behind the wheel.

"He was like get me the f*** out of here. Take me in this car now," she said.

"I was so scared. I thought he was going to shoot."

She told the officer she did not know what to do, and did not want him to keep shooting at anyone, so she retrieved the keys from the car's footwell.

"He was like 'hurry the f*** up', I jumped in the car and drove him away," she said.

"I didn't realise the extent of what I was doing. I thought I was doing the right thing."

Bracken said Epiha showed her directions on his phone, and they drove for about 10 or 15 minutes before she dropped him off.

As she drove she remembered him saying "'drive, drive, I just killed a cop'" and then calling his wife and friends to tell them he loved them, he was sorry, and that he was going to jail.

"'Tell my uncle I love them.. telling all these people that he loved them and he f***ed up. That he's going away for 14, 20 years. For a long time," she said.

Bracken was found by police at a Te Atatū address and arrested.

In court today, she hid her face as the video was played.

The trial before a jury and Justice Venning continues.