A Norinco NHM-90 semi-automatic rifle — based on the gun used by the Chinese military and with its serial number partially filed off — caused so much damage to unarmed Constable Matthew Hunt on the day he was gunned down by Eli Epiha that there's no way he could have survived, jurors have been told.
Some members of Constable Hunt's family filed out of the courtroom partway through pathologist Dr Simon Stables' testimony, although the murdered officer's mother remained.
"The cause of death is multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen and pelvis," said Stables, the first witness called by Crown prosecutors as Epiha's trial entered its second week. "All of these gunshot wounds were from Mr Hunt's back to his front and in an upward trajectory."
Epiha, 25, pleaded guilty earlier this month to injuring a bystander with his car as he fled from police in a West Auckland neighbourhood in June 2020 and to murdering Hunt, although he claims the shooting of the unarmed officer was the result of recklessness rather than murderous intent. He remains on trial because he pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Hunt's partner, Constable David Goldfinch, who was also unarmed.
The pathologist told jurors Hunt suffered one non-fatal grazing wound to his chest, as well as wounds to his lower back, right buttock and his right thigh.
"There was quite a lot of damage to the pelvis," he said, explaining that vertebrae were also damaged. "There was damage to both arteries that supply blood to both legs. Essentially, what we're looking at is internal injuries.
"These are fatal. There's no way these could have been treated."
Stables said — and defence counsel emphasised — that determining what positions shooters and wounded people are in is not an exact science and involves "a whole lot of assumptions". But he used a wooden doll often used by artists to study poses to go through possible scenarios with the jury.
One possible scenario, he said, was Constable Hunt was shot in the chest first, then fell forward as he was shot three more times. Another, he said, was that he was leaning forward slightly as he ran away from the gunfire. The final possibility he outlined was Hunt on the ground, with Epiha standing over him when he pulled the trigger.
Crown prosecutors also called to the witness stand Angus Newton, a scientist with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research who helped create a detailed map of the scene with a laser scanner. He also evaluated the trajectories of the bullets, test-fired the firearm that was linked back to Epiha after his arrest and studied the clothing that both Hunt and Goldfinch wore on the day of the shooting.
Bullet holes and divots were found in the roadway, in a nearby lawn, through a residential fence, through a car, lodged in a palm tree and in the side of a home, Newton testified. Damage to the roof of one of the cars suggests at least one bullet was travelling downwards, he said, matching Goldfinch's testimony that Epiha was angling the gun down on one side of the vehicle in an effort to shoot him as he hunkered behind the opposite side.
Analysis of Goldfinch's clothing suggests he was shot from behind, Newton said. Two of the bullet holes in his clothes had "bullet wipe", a dark ring that indicates the bullet was fired directly at the officer rather than being a ricochet, he said.
Newton agreed with the pathologist, based on his analysis of the clothing, that Constable Hunt also had been shot from behind.
Newton and police armourer Mathew Davies both test-fired the gun.
"It's a pretty decent-sized projectile," Davies said of the bullet calibre. "It was designed in the 40s as a military-style cartridge, and it's very efficient at what it does."
Davies testified the gun was functioning and not prone to accidental firing. It would have taken "a conscious effort and a deliberate pull" of the trigger, he said.
He did, however, concede under cross-examination that the gun could have intermittently fired two bullets with one pull of the trigger even though semi-automatic weapons are not supposed to do so. Epiha's lawyers suggested in their questioning that he was a sloppy, inaccurate shooter, matching the defendant's contention that he was merely reckless that day instead of actively trying to kill the officers.
Newton said he didn't have a full serial number for the gun because "there were signs of filing or grinding". He also tested a sawn-off firearm linked to the defendant, describing the shortened butt as a feature generally used for illegal concealment.
The final witness to testify on Monday was Detective Brooke Chambers, who briefly spoke with Epiha between when he was arrested and when he asserted his right to remain silent. His own testimony was similarly brief.
"He asked me, was it fatal?" Chambers recalled.
The detective told him only that the officers were in serious condition, not knowing the full extent of the tragedy himself at that point, he said.