A West Auckland resident whose car was taken soon after the shootings of unarmed constables Matthew Hunt and David Goldfinch recalled to jurors how one of the officers ran to his driveway that morning, hiding behind a car.
“I looked into his eyes and he looked scared,” Marcus Tiatia said of the officer at the Auckland High Court trial of Eli Bob Sauni Epiha and Natalie Jane Bracken.
“Did you say anything to him?” Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey asked the witness.
“No,” he said.
“Did you offer him any shelter?” the prosecutor then asked.
“No,” he answered again.
Epiha pleaded guilty last week to Constable Hunt’s murder and to reckless driving prior to the shooting, while fleeing the officers, that resulted in the injury of a bystander. But he has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Constable Goldfinch, who survived being hit by four bullets on the morning of 19 June 2020.
Bracken is accused of being an accessory after the fact to murder — the result, prosecutors contend, of her helping Epiha flee the neighbourhood after the shooting.
Bracken, who Tiatia referred to as “Nat”, had an on-again-off-again relationship with the witness’ older brother and had spent the night at his house the night before, he said. But he didn’t see her that morning until hearing a crash and running outside, where he witnessed the shooting, he said.
Prosecutors asked Tiatia multiple times how Bracken ended up with the keys to his car. He said he didn’t know.
“They [keys] could have been anywhere,” he said several times, adding later after prosecutors pressed the issue: “She ran in after me after I ran inside. She just asked if I had my keys. I didn’t respond.”
Tiatia was followed on the witness stand by his partner, who walked into the courtroom crying.
“I saw a guy with a gun. He was shooting the gun,” she said, explaining that he had only one hand on the weapon as he fired. “He was trying to pull his pants up and shoot at the same time.”
She dabbed a tissue at her eyes recalling seeing one of the constables lying motionless in the roadway. The gunshots, she said, were “ringing in my ear the whole morning”.
When asked how the gunman and Braken ended up with the keys to the car she shared with her partner, she also initially said she didn’t know where the keys to the car had been.
“Can you help us with that,” the prosecutor asked again.
A long pause ensued.
“He pointed the gun at us,” she eventually said. “She got them [the keys] from us.”
She later clarified on cross-examination that the gun wasn’t pointed directly at her and her partner but it was pointed in their general direction.
“Uce, uce, take me,” she recalled the gunman calling out “to anybody”.
“Those words don’t amount to a threat, do they?” Epiha’s lawyer, Marcus Edgar, asked her.
She agreed they didn’t.
When questioned by Bracken’s lawyer, Adam Couchman, she acknowledged that her partner’s older brother is generally anti-police in his sentiments and that he called her at the police station as she spoke to authorities later that day. She didn’t mention that her car had been taken until her second police statement, she also admitted.
Several eye-witnesses with no connections to either defendant also appeared visibly uncomfortable during the third day of the trial as they testified against the two, who sat next to guards directly behind the witness stand.
One witness elected to use a screen separating him from the defendant. Another apologised for being so nervous and appeared to jump when he thought a lawyer was about to mention his partner by name.
Their demeanour was a stark contrast to the way Epiha was described immediately after the shootings — strolling down the residential Massey street as casually as if he was window shopping at the mall.
“She was waving her arms around, trying to get the guy’s attention to follow her,” the second witness of the day testified, appearing to refer to Bracken. “He was calmly walking along. It was just a casual stroll, like you do walking around the mall.”
The last witness of the day also agreed that the gunman appeared strangely calm immediately after the shooting.
That witness, who is a cousin of the bystander injured by Epiha’s car, said he watched the gunman take aim and shoot towards the police vehicle.
“The officer was trying to save himself with his hand in front of his face,” the witness said, explaining that he then ran inside.
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