27 Jul 2021

Massey cop shooting trial: Jury finds Eli Epiha guilty of attempted murder

4:01 pm on 27 July 2021

Police killer Eli Epiha has been found guilty on a charge of attempted murder, after shooting two officers in Auckland last June, killing Matthew Hunt and wounding David Goldfinch.

Eli Epiha on trial at the Auckland High Court.

Eli Epiha. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Epiha had already admitted the murder of Hunt and reckless driving causing injury.

Meanwhile, the accused getaway driver Natalie Bracken has been found guilty helping Epiha avoid arrest.

In the High Court at Auckland, witnesses and experts have detailed the shooting and its aftermath.

Here's how it happened:

19 June, 2020

"We're being shot at."

Those were some of Matthew Hunt's final words, uttered into his police radio as he stepped out of a car.

He had just seen 10 shots fired at his colleague David Goldfinch.

The next four bullets would take the young constable's life.

That moment would be described as "horrendous" by the police commissioner and prompted outpourings of shock and grief around the country.

Hundreds of friends, colleagues and officials gathered at Eden Park to farewell the "supportive, dedicated, loyal and encouraging" young constable, while his mother presented a petition to Parliament signed by nearly 40,000 people, asking for harsher penalties for people who murder police.

In the High Court at Auckland this month, a jury heard Hunt would not have anticipated gunfire on the morning of 19 June at all. The windy West Auckland day started with "speed checks, licence checks - your everyday traffic policing" for Hunt, who had been in the police just two years and eight months, and his senior colleague David Goldfinch.

It was the duo's first time working together. Hunt was behind the wheel of the marked police car, Goldfinch in the passenger seat.

Goldfinch remembered being parked uphill on Triangle Road in Massey. They briefly waved to another police officer in an unmarked car, working nearby.

Eli Epiha

Eli Bob Sauni Epiha told the court he had no intention to kill police officers that day when he got up and brushed his teeth. He was planning to visit family in the north. The 24-year-old chose a large camouflage shirt to wear.

He claimed the morning took a turn when his phone rang and he heard the voice of his brother-in-law Leroy on the other end. Leroy was "distressed and scared", he said. He feared gang members were coming to his house to "tax" him, meaning take his possessions, Epiha translated.

Epiha was not going to let gang members near the house where his nieces and nephews lived, he said. He promptly contacted a friend, asking to borrow their firearms.

"I just wanted to scare them away," he claimed - to do something that would make them "never come back".

Whether Epiha truly just wanted to protect his family has been questioned by the Crown in court.

Either way, Epiha got into his dark purple Toyota Verossa sedan, drove to an address in Massey, and collected two loaded guns - a Winchester lever-action rifle that he placed in the back, and a Norinco semi-automatic, which he laid against the passenger seat.

It was "scary looking", he told the court.

"I didn't know if it was a semi-automatic or an automatic at the time."

The crash

The two officers spotted Epiha driving erratically. Goldfinch saw the car enter the intersection "way too fast" then turn slowly into Reynella Drive.

"That's some pretty poor driving," Goldfinch thought.

Hunt indicated, U-turned, and began to follow the car on Reynella Drive, where it continued to move sedately, then dipped out of view. It reappeared going up a hill "at the rate of knots", Goldfinch said.

Epiha had "gapped it," he recalled. He was endeavouring to put as much distance between himself and the police car as possible. Until a rubbish truck abruptly entered his line of vision.

He braked and the car spun around 180 degrees - then crashed. It hit a parked Toyota Prius and settled facing the wrong way on the street.

Epiha said he jabbed at the accelerator, but it wasn't working properly. The engine revved loudly. Smoke billowed out. The car would only crawl forward, with just enough oomph to manoeuvre into a driveway.

"I saw the smoke in the sky … I hadn't smelled anything like it before," remembered witness Pesley Faaui, who was on the way to a nearby fruit shop.

Slain police officer Matthew Hunt.

Matthew Hunt. Photo: NZ Police / Facebook

The court heard descriptions of loud screaming as a woman clutched her husband near the back of the Prius. He'd been hit. The 37-year-old was knocked out cold, surrounded by the bags he had been packing into the car for a family trip to Rotorua.

Paramedics would later find a laceration on the back of his skull and fractures to his back and ribs.

The shots

The two police officers pulled up in the street seconds after the crash and exclaimed "whoa" to each other. While Hunt shifted the car to park, Goldfinch said he unbuckled his seatbelt and stepped out into the smoke and debris. His eyes were on the damaged Verossa.

"With how bad the crash looked, I thought I was going to find an injured driver slumped over the steering wheel. I think it was only one or two more steps before I saw a male come around the far side of the vehicle."

It was the driver of the car, he told the court. In his hands was a big firearm like an AK-47. He was walking aggressively.

Goldfinch remembered saying "f***ing stop bro".

Epiha remembered saying "get in your car and f*** off".

Residents were watching. Jacob Mahia said he ducked behind a parked car on the other side of the road as the man lifted the big gun to his shoulder.

"His hand was on the trigger in the shooting position, ready to shoot."

The woman with the injured husband feared she would end up in the line of fire.

"When I saw him, I was very afraid. I got on top of my husband… I was so afraid that maybe we get shot. I'm just praying," she told the court.

The defence said the first bullet that left the gun was a warning shot for Goldfinch, fired towards a patch of trees. The officer who had his hands in the air to show he was unarmed, said he was already walking backwards at the time.

Either way, it missed. The second bullet slashed a car tyre open, releasing a loud hissing noise.

But it didn't stop there. CCTV footage captured the sounds of 10 shots in about 16 seconds.

In court, Shane Conza identified this semi-automatic Norinco in a glass case - similar to an AK-47 - as the one he had helped Eli Epiha to bury.

A semi-automatic Norinco displayed in court. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

"I kept hearing them. The sounds... the crack of a firearm is just unmistakable," Goldfinch said.

His training kicked into action and he ran to a parked Suzuki SUV for cover.

"A firearm of that calibre - the only thing that will stop it is an engine block."

Goldfinch recalls a game of "cat and mouse" with the gunman, as he dropped to a push-up position behind the car, shouted at the gunman to stop, and watched Epiha keep pacing towards him regardless. One bullet came through the roof of the car.

"I think he was trying to get a clean shot at me."

Right before Goldfinch decided to keep running, he remembers a "surreal moment" with the gunman, who he had yelled at to stop.

"I saw him almost kind of contemplating what I'd said to him. And after a few seconds, his head just kinda clicked. It was like he'd just made a decision. And it was like 'I'm gonna kill ya'."

Goldfinch told the court there was a shower of shrapnel when he fled. He described the ground around him "exploding", the sensation of heat all over his skin.

Epiha denied he was trying to shoot Goldfinch directly, but he did.

Two bullets went through the officer's leg, one hit his hip and one bounced off his boot. Goldfinch likened the feeling of being shot to an "explosion of acid".

Epiha's lawyer Mark Edgar said bystanders never mentioned Goldfinch hobbling or staggering - nor Goldfinch himself. He gave no indication he was wounded.

In Epiha's word's "it's not a PlayStation game. You just don't know if someone gets hit".

Goldfinch ran up a driveway and sheltered behind a house with a big flexi-bin, kneeling over and seeing his pants ripped open and bullet holes in his calf muscle. His radio message to police comms included the code "10-10" requesting immediate assistance. He swore breathlessly down the line. The recording was played to the jury.

"I've been f***ing shot... I'm bleeding a bit out of my legs."

Epiha, who by this time had got used to the gun, according to Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey, made his way back to retrieve the second gun before he fled.

That was when Hunt stepped out of the police car, perhaps "courageously", Dickey said - in a move that cost his life.

"It just happened," is the reason Epiha gave for pulling the trigger four more times.

"I got a fright … I wasn't expecting a second officer."

Due to the upwards trajectory of three bullets in his lower back, right buttock and inside of his right thigh the jury heard Hunt couldn't have survived.

A fourth bullet, fired from behind the officer, damaged the left side of Hunt's chest. It was found lodged in his clothing, a forensic pathologist relayed to the court.

The last movements of Hunt were captured on video by a resident up the road, played to the jury.

What isn't captured is a moment of contemplation described by Epiha.

"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 claimed.

"I was thinking about chucking him in the police car and driving him down to Waitākere 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."

The getaway

In the video, Epiha is seen hovering near the passenger door to a grey Mazda Atenza.

A brunette woman in jeans, a white bra and bare feet, now known to be Natalie Bracken, enters the frame.

No caption

Natalie Bracken. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

"He threatened me," she told a police officer the next day.

"He was like get me the f*** out of here. Take me in this car now … I was so scared. I thought he was going to shoot."

She told the police officer she got the car keys from the footwell, but the footage shows her trying the handle, disappearing and then reappearing with the keys.

Epiha explained he had originally hoped to get a lift from his friend Ben, who lived nearby. He had called out to a couple on the footpath, thinking the man was Ben. It was not.

He claimed to have asked Bracken politely. "Can you please give me a ride?"

Bracken told the officer the Mazda was her ex-boyfriend's car and she thought taking Epiha away from the scene was "the right thing" to do.

She said they drove for about 10 or 15 minutes while Epiha showed her directions on his phone. She dropped him off at his friend's house.

It was not a silent trip. Bracken remembered the gunman saying "drive, drive, I just killed a cop", then calling his wife and friends.

"Tell my uncle I love them", she recalled him saying.

"[He was] 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."

The recorded police interview - from the day after the shooting - shows Bracken's hair freshly died red. She knocks over a cup of water as she sobs through her statement.

She claimed not to know Epiha - just that he looked familiar, might have been at the pokies once.

Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey suggested Epiha had a "swagger" in his walk before he climbed in the car.

"I wasn't thinking about swagger," he retorted.


St John Ambulance paramedic Kathryn Jackson found Hunt surrounded by other police officers, who had been performing CPR. He was flat lining. She said she helped give him ECG, fluids and shots of adrenaline to try and save his life.

Her colleague Joanne Stewart tended to David Goldfinch. She told the court she found him lying on the ground on Reynella Drive, with a graze on his hip and two "jagged" looking puncture wounds on his leg.

Emergency medical technician Trent Hirst looked after the man hit in the car crash, who was conscious and alert but bleeding from his head.

The jury was shown footage of Eli Epiha and Natalie Bracken in the moments before and after Matthew Hunt’s shooting.

Bracken and Epiha enter the vehicle. Photo: NZ Police

All three were taken to hospital and the paramedics took care to ensure Goldfinch didn't see Hunt as they exited the ambulances.

Goldfinch went into surgery to have shrapnel removed from his thigh and stayed in hospital for two nights.

The bystander's head injury and fractures were treated, and he was discharged the same day.

Hunt was pronounced dead at 11.40am on 19 June.

Hiding the firearms

The court heard that Bracken dropped Epiha at Shane Conza's house in Taupaki, in Auckland's northwest, at about noon.

Conza, a friend of Epiha's, recalled him wanting a ride in his car. He said Epiha did not specify where to or why.

"He was pretty calm. A little more urgent than usual," Conza recalled.

Conza said he loaded Epiha's belongings into his light blue Nissan Maxima and they drove to Riverhead. On Forestry Road, he pulled over. Conza got out, carried the Norinco into a secluded patch of trees and sprinkled pine needles on it.

Conza claimed he never asked Epiha what was going on, or why they were hiding a firearm.

"I just recall him saying that he'd f**ed up … but that was under his breath. Maybe foolishly, I didn't ask. Sometimes in situations you get a feeling, you just know what's going on and I was scared to ask."

Epiha stayed put in the car and Conza believed Epiha flung a "rugby boot" bag out of the window as they drove off.

Conza turned onto State Highway 16 - and that was when they were spotted by police officer Robert Cato.

The arrests

Cato said he was helping keep watch for an armed assailant who was on the run. He knew the man had dark hair and might be wearing a camouflage shirt.

The court heard there was a long line of cars, but Conza picked out the Nissan Maxima "by intuition" and signalled for it to pull over.

Conza remembered Epiha uttering some words of advice.

"He said to be cool. I needed to be cool in the situation."

When Cato saw Epiha in the passenger seat he had changed his shirt and apparently his name. He told Cato it was "Trevor Thompson, spelt with a P" - which didn't match anything in the police database.

Cato arrested the man for providing false details and put him in handcuffs. Conza gave his real name and asked for a cigarette.

Officer Eli Antunovich recalled quizzing the passenger on his true identity. Epiha finally resigned and gave Antunovich permission to pull his licence out of his pocket, he said.

Meanwhile, Cato opened the boot of the car and saw an item of scrunched-up camouflage clothing. He told the court it reminded him of the description of the armed offender.

Antunovich used his police radio to ask for another description.

It was a "very, very, very strong resemblance", Antunovich said.

Detective Constable Sam Coumbe told the court Conza took him back to Forestry Road to show him where the gun was hidden.

Conza also revealed the location of the bag.

In it, police prosecutor Brian Dickey said the police found a second firearm - a Winchester rifle.

The following day, Bracken was arrested at a house in Te Atatū .

Detective Sergeant Ashley Matthews arrived with a warrant to arrest and informed her they would be returning to the Henderson Police station.

He told the court her hair was wet and dripping with colour, he recalled, her demeanour "reasonably calm but she was crying."

The trial

Epiha and Goldfinch both gave evidence during a two-week trial in the High Court in Auckland in July 2021, before a jury of 12 people and Justice Venning.

For most of the trial the public gallery was packed with friends and family and colleagues of Hunt.

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