22 Jul 2021

Epiha had intent to kill second officer - Crown

5:00 pm on 22 July 2021

The crown in the trial of Eli Epiha claims he was intent on killing police officers last June - choosing the most efficient of two weapons and sauntering away when an officer was wounded.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court.

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

Meanwhile Epiha and his lawyer have described how a mission to protect his family went wrong, and say Epiha only wanted to escape the police.

In the High Court in Auckland Epiha denies the attempted murder of officer David Goldfinch, although he admits murdering officer Matthew Hunt and dangerous driving causing injury to a bystander.

He shot at the officers after fleeing a routine traffic stop in Massey and crashing.

Just before the sound of gunfire on CCTV footage from Reynella Drive on June 19th last year is the sound of a voice, which Eli Epiha denies is him.

Today crown prosecutor Brian Dickey told the jury it was a clear "woohoo" noise - the sound of Epiha "fully engaged" and intent on killing police officers.

He said Epiha picked up the more lethal of the two loaded weapons in his car as officer David Goldfinch approached, "hard as that is to understand, for whatever reason best known only to Epiha."

"He was always going to start shooting police officers for whatever reason...he was always going to open fire. We can say that with 100 percent confidence because he did open fire," he said.

Dickey said Goldfinch escaped "miraculously", despite the four shots that hit him, then Hunt courageously got out of the vehicle and was met square on by Epiha, who by that time had his "sights in."

However in the witness box today Eli Epiha denied he was shooting to kill.

The Crown says Epiha fired 10 shots at Goldfinch as the officer ran and hid behind a car, but Epiha said five of the shots "weren't really in his direction" and he wasn't shooting to kill.

He told crown prosecutor Dickey he only wanted to scare Goldfinch away.

"I just didn't think that I got him. It's not a PlayStation game. You just don't know if someone gets hit," he said.

Epiha wasn't able to explain why he then shot Matthew Hunt - and initially declined to talk about the murder.

But urged by Justice Venning to answer the questions, Epiha explained he wasn't expecting a second police officer and got a big fright.

"I didn't think," he said.

Epiha said he considered Hunt's pleas for assistance as the injured officer lay on the road.

"He asked me for help. I thought about it. I was thinking about it for a few seconds. When I was looking at him that's when I started to hear sirens," he said.

"I was thinking about chucking him in the police car and driving him down to Waitakere Hospital. But I didn't because I was hearing those sirens. I just thought about [the fact] the armed offenders squad was on the way," he said.

In the crown closing Brian Dickey told the jury someone who wasn't intending to kill a police officer would have shown empathy and stopped to help.

"But he calmly wanders off, saunters off, to arrange his ride to get out of there. No attention spent on Constable Hunt. None. He tried to say he thought about putting him in the car to take him to hospital - that's just inconceivable, self-serving."

Epiha's lawyer Mark Edgar told the jury Epiha certainly didn't get out of bed intending to hurt police officers.

He said Epiha was on his way to brandish the firearms at gang members, to protect his family.

Edgar said it would be easy to empathise with Goldfinch who "might have believed" he was running for his life - and that his life was under threat - when he said there is no evidence Epiha chased Goldfinch across the road.

"There were no multiple shots around the police car as Constable Goldfinch believed. There was no intention to murder Mr Goldfinch as the crown would have you accept," he said.

He said "as horrible as it is", Epiha's attempt's to scare off Goldfinch using the gunshots, worked, because Goldfinch did run - giving Epiha time to flee.

"Mr Epiha had one clear intention. And that was to get away from the police," he said.

When bullets hit Goldfinch in the leg, Edgar said it was a "glaring omission" that Goldfinch remember hobbling or stumbling.

Therefore, he said Epiha had no way of knowing that he'd shot the officer.

The best evidence comes straight from the gunman, Edgar said, who didn't change or embellish what had happened.

He told the jury the only clear verdict is one of not guilty.

Also on trial is the accused getaway driver Natalie Bracken, originally charged with accessory after the fact of murder.

Today her charge was changed to accessory after the fact of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, because Matthew Hunt hadn't been pronounced dead by the time she allegedly drove away.

Yesterday the jury heard Bracken's police interview, in which she claims to have been threatened by the gunman.

But Dickey said there was conflicting evidence about when and how Ms Bracken got the car keys.

He said it's also unclear why she didn't speak to the police later on.

"If she wanted to keep the public safe, if she wanted to keep the uniformed officers of New Zealand Police safe, that's what she could and would have done. But she did not. That speaks volumes, the crown says, as to what her motivations were of getting Mr Epiha out of the scene," he said.

Bracken's lawyer, Adam Couchman, said his client believed she was doing the right thing, when Epiha asked her for a ride in the car.

He said there was no formula for how a person should act in a "left field" situation that unfolded on Reynella Drive.

"She did what any other person could conceievably do. And that is, she complied, with his request. And she got him out of there," he said.

"She knew what would happen if she didn't get him out of there. There would be a bloodbath... how else could it play out?"

He said Bracken had no investment in Epiha or his actions - she was simply focussed on getting him out of there to resolve the immediate crisis.

The trial continues.

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