Eli Epiha trial: After shooting police, gunman casually strolled away, court told
After firing the 14 shots that resulted in Constable Matthew Hunt’s death and his partner’s injury last year, the gunman strolled down the West Auckland residential street with his military-style semi-automatic rifle still in hand — appearing so calm he could have been window shopping at the mall, a witness told jurors today at the trial of Epi Bob Sauni Epiha.
“It was just a casual stroll,” said the man, who was standing outside his mother’s home when the first blasts rang out then bolted back inside the house to lock the doors and close the curtains.
Epiha, 25, has already pleaded guilty to the murder of Constable Hunt — although he maintains he was reckless rather than having murderous intent when he pulled the trigger. He remains on trial because he pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Constable David Goldfinch, who was hit by four bullets on the morning of June 19, 2020,but survived.
Also on trial at the High Court in Auckland is co-defendant Natalie Jane Bracken, who is accused of being an accessory after the fact to murder. Crown prosecutors say she helped Epiha escape after the shooting.
The witness told jurors he ran up to his bedroom to get a better view of the street after locking up the house and as his mother and her partner spoke to police on the phone. While the gunman — described as fat and with long, wavy hair — was calm, there was a woman on the street who seemed more frantic, he said.
“She was waving her arms around, trying to get the guy’s attention to follow her,” he testified. “He was calmly walking along. It was just a casual stroll, like you do walking around the mall.”
The witness and his mother’s partner, who testified yesterday, both initially ran out of the house after hearing a crash. They saw two crashed cars and an injured man lying on the side of the road, with a woman screaming next to him, the witness said.
One of the crashed cars was revving its engine, with smoke coming out of the front, until a man got out with an “AK-47-style” rifle, he said.
“We saw a cop car pull up seconds later,” he said, explaining that he heard a car door open and shut followed by three or four gunshots.
The man with the gun had been walking towards the patrol car, he said.
“He was aiming [the gun] at the cop car,” he said. “His hand was on the trigger, in the shooting position — ready to shoot.”
Then he did shoot, and continued walking towards the police car as the shots rang out, the witness said.
Justice Venning began the third day of Epiha’s trial by addressing jurors about images from inside the courtroom that have appeared on social media platform TikTok. He also mentioned a story on the TikTok posts that the Herald published yesterday evening.
The anonymous user denigrated Hunt and mixed images of Epiha with gangsta rap music, the Herald reported. The account was deleted last night.
“They’re frankly childish and insensitive,” Justice Venning said of the posts, reminding jurors to avoid both social media and news accounts for the duration of the trial.
“I make it clear they’ve got nothing to do with you as jurors,” he continued. “I remind you that you must put all extraneous matters like that to one side.”
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