Steve Braunias: Eli Epiha trial – Shot officer speaks in court, looking like a ghost


Constable David Goldfinch was asked in the High Court of Auckland on Thursday morning, “How many shots were there?”

He said, “I didn’t count.”

Fancy that. He had other things on his mind on June 19 last year, the day he was describing in courtroom 11, and the story he told was about trying to stay alive but feeling pretty sure that fate had made him an appointment with death.

Goldfinch appeared in court looking like a ghost. There was something vague and sketchy about him; he had been shot at 10 times, hit twice in the leg, and once in the hip and once in the boot, as he fled from Eli Epiha, armed with a semi-automatic weapon on a hilly street in Massey, West Auckland, on a Friday morning.

Epiha is accused of attempted murder. His trial is solely concerned with the shots he fired at Goldfinch and whether it was his intent to kill him. Constable Matthew Hunt was shot and killed by Epiha that day but he has pleaded guilty to that charge of murder, and Hunt’s tragic death is almost only ever mentioned in the courtroom as an aside.

Hunt was shot in the street. Goldfinch was shot at on the pavement and down a driveway, running for cover, remembering his police training that the only thing that could stop a bullet from a semi-automatic is an engine block. He hid behind a car. Epiha came around the car. “It was funny,” said Goldfinch, without a trace of comedy, as he described the two of them in a choreography of cat and mouse.

Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey: “Did he say anything?”

Goldfinch: “Not a word.”

A silent pursuit, except for the incredible noise of the 10 shots. They were played on an audio recording in court on Monday. It was one thing to listen to them sounding like an explosion but for Goldfinch it was a matter of the bullets hitting him like an explosion. His description of being shot in the hip: “It just felt like an explosion of acid through my belt.”

He thought, “This is where I die.” He kept running, and when he turned to look at Epiha, he saw something else: “I saw the flash of the nuzzle.” And then, he said, “From that point the bullets didn’t stop.” He said, “The grass was exploding.” He said, “It was just crack after crack.” Old-timey crime novels used to refer to bullets rather melodramatically as hot lead; Goldfinch experienced the truth of that: “A shower of shrapnel burned my face, my hair, my arms.”

He kept it together in the witness box. Now and then he put his fist over his mouth, and blinked; but he continued, and talked about sheltering behind a house until he saw Epiha again, as if he were some kind of terminator who doesn’t give up: “He was hunting me,” he told the court. “I jumped up and ran and jumped over the fence but it broke jumping over it.”

He got away. A man came out of a house, and said, “We don’t need that shit in our neighbourhood.” Hard to think of any neighbourhood that would welcome something so random, so lethal, and until courtroom 11 hears otherwise as the trial continues, so apparently completely senseless.

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