After shootings, Epiha said he had messed up
In the hours after shooting constables Matthew Hunt and David Goldfinch, killing Hunt, Eli Epiha seemed calm, making only one startling but vague admission, an associate of his said at his trial.
“I just recall him saying he f ***ed up,” Shane Conza told Epiha’s attempted-murder trial in the High Court at Auckland yesterday.
Epiha made the remark as Conza drove him north that June 2020 afternoon, away from the West Auckland neighbourhood where the officers were gunned down.
“Maybe foolishly, I didn’t ask [what he had done],” Conza continued, maintaining he then knew nothing of the shootings. Epiha, 25, pleaded guilty last week to Hunt’s murder — although he maintains it the was the result of recklessness instead of murderous intent. But he pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of Goldfinch, and the trial began this week.
Goldfinch testified yesterday that Epiha crashed his car that morning after fleeing the officers, then emerged with a military-style semi-automatic rifle. The officer, who was hit by four bullets, said he showed Epiha he was unarmed and tried to reason with him, telling him to walk away. Epiha didn’t say a word, instead seeming to decide to kill him, Goldfinch said.
Epiha was filmed leaving the residential street with co-defendant Natalie Bracken, who faces a charge of being an accessory after the fact to murder. He later showed up at a rural Taupaki property where Conza lived with his partner and child. Conza said he and his partner argued because Epiha was with a woman they didn’t know.
“She definitely didn’t want to be there,” Conza said of the woman.
The witness said she left in the car they arrived in and he agreed to give Epiha a ride, first putting a large item wrapped in cloth — he later realised it was an assault rifle — in his own car. He often drove for Epiha, whom he had known for about six years.
“Eli was pretty calm,” he recalled. “He was obviously concerned he had upset me because I got in a fight with my partner.”
The two drove for nearly an hour, but Epiha never mentioned shooting the officers, Conza said.
But Conza suspected he had been put in an uncomfortable situation, so stopped next to a forested area and took the wrapped item from the boot, covering it in pinecones off the highway.
“It was a Kalashnikov AK-47,” he told the jury.
He did not ask why Epiha had brought the gun.
A short time later, the pair were pulled over by police.
“He said to be cool,” Conza said, explaining that the defendant asked him to break Epiha’s cellphone, which he declined to do. Epiha then gave police a false name, he said.
After the pair sat handcuffed at the roadside for about 30 minutes, police said Epiha was a person of interest in two shootings and Conza realised what was going on. He decided to mention the gun he had dumped and helped them find it.
Under cross-examination from Epiha’s lawyers, Conza agreed Epiha usually had a calm demeanour. Bracken’s attorneys, meanwhile, suggested it should be Conza charged with accessory after the fact to murder.
“If you did know about the death of a police officer, you’d accept your actions were being done to help him avoid arrest and prosecution?” lawyer Adam Couchman asked, before being more blunt: “You knew at that time that your mate had been involved in a murder.” “No,” Conza replied.
The witness also took issue with Couchman’s suggestion he was helping Epiha to hide the gun.
“You use the word stash, but it was more like to get it out of my vehicle,” he said.