7 Oct 2022

Fatal shooting of Matthew Hunt: Family relive tragedy as Eli Epiha appeals sentence

10:21 am on 7 October 2022
Eli Epiha at his sentencing in the High Court in Auckland.

Eli Epiha was sentenced to life without parole for 27 years in December last year. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The family of a slain police officer has had to hear the details of his death re-litigated in court all over again.

Eli Epiha is appealing his sentence for the murder of Constable Matthew Hunt in 2020.

Epiha shot and killed Matthew Hunt, and wounded another officer, with a semi-automatic rifle on a West Auckland street in the suburb of Massey after fleeing a routine traffic stop.

His lawyer Mark Edgar told the Court of Appeal his prison sentence of life without parole for 27 years was unjust. It is one of the longest jail sentences ever imposed.

"The crushing sentence imposed on what is still a relatively young man failed to uphold an important principal of sentencing - that of rehabilitation."

Edgar said Epiha's sentence should be compared to that of Daniel Luff, who killed one police officer and attempted to murder another in 2002.

That would bring the minimum non-parole period down to about 20 years, he said.

Instead, during sentencing, Justice Venning compared it to Russell Tully, who got the same term for shooting and killing two Ashburton Work and Income staff in 2014.

But Epiha's lawyer said nothing in the legislation elevated the life of a police officer over anyone else.

"There are both public servants who are innocent victims, who have been murdered, and attempted murder, and in my submission the number of victims and the degree of premeditation take Tully into a higher level of criminality."

But Crown lawyer Brian Dickey said Epiha's sentence was rightly a long one.

Epiha made a determined effort to kill police officers, and while his actions were not premeditated, they were no less serious, Dickey said.

"Mr Epiha had no motive to kill these police constables, he was just killing them, and with respect that's what led His Honour Justice Venning to speak of how chilling this was."

Epiha had had his chance for rehabilitation, Dickey said.

There was a serious risk to public safety once Epiha was released, especially for uniformed police, he said.

Speaking outside the court, Constable Hunt's mother Diane said the family had expected the appeal and now needed to endure the process.

"We believe the sentence that he received was the right sentence and so we hope that that's what stays."

His sister Eleanor said it was difficult to hear the details of her brother's death rehashed in court again.

"It's just incredibly hard now that we're over two years past the event that we now have to go through the same emotions again of bringing things back up."

His uncle Robert Winterbottom said his nephew was just trying to do his job on the day he died.

"What happened that day was just so wrong and it was avoidable. He could've chosen to not shoot at Matthew, in the back, at that point. Matthew was no threat to him," he said.

"He could've walked away, and he chose not to."

The Justices reserved their decision and will release it later in writing.