27 Jul 2021

Matthew Hunt's mother speaks to media after Eli Eipha guilty verdict

6:46 pm on 27 July 2021

The mother of murdered police officer Matthew Hunt says it has been traumatic listening to the details in court of what happened to her son.

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Diane Hunt. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A jury in the trial of Epiha this afternoon reached a majority verdict, finding him guilty of the attempted murder of David Goldfinch.

In a unanimous decision, it found the accused getaway driver Natalie Bracken guilty of helping Epiha avoid arrest.

Slain police officer Matthew Hunt.

Murdered officer Matt Hunt. Photo: NZ Police / Facebook

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

The verdicts came after a long day of deliberations in the High Court in Auckland.

Epiha and Bracken are due to be sentenced on 1 October. They showed no sign of emotion as the verdict was delivered.

After the verdicts, Diane Hunt spoke to media outside court, surrounded by family and friends.

"The past two plus weeks have been harrowing for all of us," she said.

"Listening to what happened to Matthew and Dave in such raw detail on Friday, June 19 can't be described in words.

"The loss of Matt has been made all the more traumatic by having to hear every possible detail that happened that day."

Hunt said the family had received a huge amount of support in the aftermath of her son's death.

But they still feel his loss.

"This Friday will mark Matthew's 30th birthday, we miss him terribly. We hope that no other police family will ever have to go through this."

Police Association president Chris Cahill said in a statement this afternoon that it had been harrowing for those connected to the officers to listen to the facts of this case as they laid bare the extent of the violence perpetrated against Hunt and Goldfinch.

NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill.

Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo: Kevin Stent / Stuff / LDR

"The cold, calculated and deliberate murder of Matt, and the attempted murder of Dave were clearly demonstrated, as was Epiha's intent and lack of remorse," Cahill said.

"It was nothing short of disgusting to witness Epiha's attempt to shift the blame away from himself."

It now rested with the judge to deliver a sentence that reflected the condemnation New Zealanders expected, Cahill said.

"This verdict and future sentencing will not bring back Matt, it won't heal David's injuries, and it will not make their fellow officers any safer," he said.

"What it will do, however, is send a very clear message to police officers who take enormous risks in their daily job, that they are valued."

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster paid tribute to the officers' families, who he said had to endure details of the attack in court.

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Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I want to acknowledge Matt's family and friends, particularly his mum Diane and sister Ellie, who have spent two weeks listening to extremely painful and harrowing details of Matt's death," he said.

"They have shown immense strength despite the fact they are still in the midst of their grief and mourning the loss of their much-loved son and brother."

The guilty verdict for the attempted murder of Goldfinch was a relief to the officer and his family, Coster said.

"Dave has shown incredible strength throughout this process and we saw this when he gave his evidence recounting what happened to him and Matt on that tragic day."

The murder and attempted murder had affected everyone, particularly colleagues in the Waitematā District, he said.

"This trial has been a brutal reminder of the inherent risks and potential danger that Police officers face every day, and so I want to thank all my staff for their commitment, and continued bravery to do the best possible job every day to protect our communities," he said.

Coster told Checkpoint New Zealand had a style of policing that centred on being unarmed and he still did not believe police should be armed.

He said he had strong support from senior leadership team for this position, although he acknowledged many officers might feel differently.

What was heard in court

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 - a Norinco semi-automatic rifle.

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."

Meanwhile Epiha's lawyer, Mark Edgar, argued that he had 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 bullets had struck the officer.

"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 told the court.

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."

Summing up the case in the High Court in Auckland yesterday 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 on "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," he said.

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.

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 the car door and finding it locked.

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