Eli Epiha trial on Massey shooting: Jury retires to consider verdict

11:33 am on 26 July 2021

A jury has retired to consider its verdict in the trial of police killer Eli Epiha, who shot two officers in Auckland last June, killing Matthew Hunt.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court.

Eli Epiha. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Epiha admits to the murder of constable Hunt and reckless driving causing injury but denied the shots which struck officer David Goldfinch were intended to kill him.

Slain police officer Matthew Hunt.

Constable Matthew Hunt. Photo: NZ Police / Facebook

The shooting happened in the suburb of Massey after Epiha fled a routine traffic stop and crashed into a parked car and a bystander.

The accused getaway driver, Natalie Bracken, is also on trial for a charge of accessory after the fact of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Summing up the case in the High Court in Auckland this morning, Justice Venning urged jurors to put aside any prejudice against Epiha or sympathy for the officers.

To find Epiha guilty, he said jurors must be sure that "at least one of the occasions Mr Epiha shot at Mr Goldfinch, he had that intention to kill."

"You do not have to consider what his motive or his reason for shooting at Mr Goldfinch might have been ... your focus is his intention at the time."

Justice Venning told the jury they would need to assess Bracken's state of mind at the time she drove Epiha away from the scene.

"Are you sure that when Ms Bracken drove Mr Epiha away from the scene she intended to help him avoid arrest for shooting constable Hunt?"

Venning told jurors they also needed to consider if Bracken acted under "compulsion" because her defence was that she was threatened by Epiha.

"If you find it was a reasonable possibility … that Ms Bracken believed Mr Epiha would carry out the threat, then you would find her not guilty," he explained.

Natalie Bracken on trial in the Auckland High Court.

Natalie Bracken. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

He noted Bracken had appeared to lie in a police interview played during the trial - claiming she took the car keys out of the footwell, when a video of the getaway shows her trying to open the car door and finding it locked.

"The fact she lied is something you can take into account," he told jurors.

During the trial, the crown argued that Epiha had set out to kill police officers that day - selecting the most efficient of two weapons in his car and "sauntering" away when an officer was wounded.

Crown prosecutor Brian 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."

Goldfinch gave evidence describing the "explosion of acid" in his hip when he was shot, and the moment he thought "this is where I die."

Epiha's lawyer, Mark Edgar, argued that he has been on his way to brandish firearms at gang members, and scare them away from his family members, when he crashed.

He said Epiha only shot towards Goldfinch to scare him away and did not know he had hit the officer.

In the witness box, Epiha said he "can't explain" why he shot so many times.

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

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