The Northern Advocate

Accused had a ‘swagger’, court told

- Craig Kapitan — NZ Herald

On the day that unarmed police officer Matthew Hunt was shot four times at close range, Eli Epiha — who would later admit to being his killer — had a swagger about his gait. That was the assessment prosecutor­s shared with jurors yesterday.

“He’s quite cool, quite content,” Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said. “There’s no shame.”

Epiha, 25, pleaded guilty earlier this month to Hunt’s murder, although he claims it was the result of recklessne­ss rather than murderous intent. He also pleaded guilty to driving dangerousl­y as he fled from police, resulting in injury of a bystander. But he pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Constable David Goldfinch, who was also shot four times but survived.

Jurors are expected to start deliberati­ng today.

Defence lawyer Marcus Edgar pointed out during his closing argument that his client apologised for Hunt’s death “in open court” as he took the witness stand.

The case, Edgar said, boils down to 10 shots in 16 seconds. During that time, his client had four clear “kill shot” opportunit­ies with Goldfinch. The officer, he pointed out, did not suffer any wounds above the waist.

“It just doesn’t add up. Is there intent to maim? Yes, probably. To kill, to murder? No. You can’t put in his mind murder when it simply wasn’t there.”

Epiha finished testifying earlier in the day, telling jurors he received the gun that morning — intending to use it to scare away gang members from his brother’s home. He insisted he only wanted to scare Goldfinch so he could run away.

Not Bonnie and Clyde

Lawyers for co-defendant Natalie Jane Bracken, who drove Epiha from the scene after the shootings, had earlier in the day convinced Justice Geoffrey Venning to reduce her charge to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The reason for the change, the jury was told, is because Hunt was officially declared dead after Bracken, 31, drove away from the scene.

Coming into the trial, people might have been under the wrongful impression that Epiha and Bracken were partners in crime like Bonnie and Clyde, lawyer Adam Couchman told jurors, pointing out that it was revealed through testimony that the two co-defendants didn’t know each other.

There was “nothing in it for her” to help Epiha escape, her lawyer said, suggesting that she instead drove him from the scene to save lives. Epiha had just shot two constables and other “extremely vulnerable” police were on the way, Couchman pointed out.

“She knew what would happen

if she didn’t get him out of there. There would be a bloodbath.”

His client, he said, thought she was doing the right thing from the moment she ran outside to help an injured bystander, to the time she defused the situation by driving Epiha away, her lawyer said.

Not an immediate threat

Prosecutor­s, however, argued that the evidence Bracken “was acting on any threat whatsoever is quite thin”. Goldfinch testified earlier that Epiha and Bracken seemed to have a calm chat, as if friends, immediatel­y after he was shot at.

On the same cellphone video in which Epiha can be seen to “swagger”, jurors can see Bracken struggle with a locked door to the vehicle they eventually drove away in, Dickey told jurors. As she walks away to get the keys, Epiha’s gun is in a bag and doesn’t present an immediate threat to her, he said.

“That has to be an immediate threat of life or serious harm” for her defence to work, and it’s not, he said.

 ?? Photo / NZME ?? Eli Epiha has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder.
Photo / NZME Eli Epiha has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder.

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