Steve Braunias: Eli Epiha trial – one grim fact; many untold stories in killing of Constable Matthew Hunt

OPINION:

There are always at least two sides to every crime story.

So far the case in the High Court of Auckland against Eli Epiha, accused of the attempted murder of a police officer, and Natalie Bracken, accused of being an accessory after the fact of murder, has almost entirely focused on the tragic killing of Constable Matthew Hunt.

He was shot and killed in Massey on June 19 last year. Epiha has pleaded guilty. There was a telling exchange at a pre-trial hearing last week. “I plead guilty to reckless discharge causing death,” Epiha said. Justice Venning pointed out the charge was murder.

Epiha also admits he shot and wounded Hunt’s policing partner, David Goldfinch, but denies the charge of attempted murder.

His lawyer is Marcus Edgar. Short, solidly built, with an untamed head of hair, Edgar gave a brief opening address to the jury on Monday afternoon. Brief, as in maybe five minutes; he wrote it during the Crown’s opening address, scribbling the speech on lined paper with his left hand.

He’s also questioned a couple of Crown witnesses. Edgar has made his presence felt. But from Bracken’s lawyer, Adam Couchman, not a peep.

He’s an impressive looking fellow, tall and athletic, with a noble slope to his nose and a shaved head that gleams under the ceiling lights of courtroom 11. They say a bald man expresses his emotions on his head. But all Couchman allows is a long, thin line across the back of his head, like a pursed mouth. He is as mute as the Sphinx.

Both Couchman and Edgar could be said to have hard sells to a jury. Epiha has admitted to a killing. Brackman doesn’t dispute she drove him away from the scene of the crime. But in her opening address for the Crown, Alysha McClintock talked about Bracken’s police interview: “She said she had no choice but to drive him away because she was scared of him.”

McClintock scorned the claim as false but it was a glimpse of another side to the story. More will follow. McClintock also told the jury, when she was asserting that Epiha formed the intention of killing both police officers on that winter’s morning last year, “You have to decide what was in his mind.”

On that fatal day, Epiha fled from police down Triangle Rd in West Auckland and had two semi-automatic weapons in the car. Safe to guess a man armed as heavily as that probably had a lot of things going on in his mind. Courtroom 11 will inevitably journey through his mind, and his intentions – if he had intentions – in the next three weeks.

More angles, more sides to the story, beyond the central exhibit in the front of the court, the trial’s one absolute fact: an instrument of death, a long, black streak of metal, the murder weapon that cut down two policemen in winter sunlight.

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