Cop killer's getaway driver jailed for meth supply

Natalie Jane Bracken in the dock at her 2021 trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Brett...
Natalie Jane Bracken in the dock at her 2021 trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A woman who was previously convicted of helping a cop killer flee the scene of a 2020 shooting rampage returned to court today - this time to face the consequences for helping another man with a commercial-scale wholesale methamphetamine enterprise.

Natalie Jane Bracken, 33, stood in an Auckland District Court dock, nodding along quietly as Judge June Jelas determined her latest sentence: five years and nine months’ imprisonment.

“Thank you for your time today,” the defendant told the judge as the hearing ended - blowing kisses to her family in the gallery before she was escorted out of the courtroom and back to a specialised prison unit for mothers of young children, where she had been awaiting today’s hearing.

Bracken was the subject of intense media coverage in July 2021, when she spent weeks on trial in the High Court at Auckland alongside co-defendant Eli Epiha.

He was charged with the murder of Constable Matthew Hunt and was eventually convicted and ordered to serve a life sentence with a lengthy non-parole period of 27 years.

Bracken, who claimed she was just trying to defuse the situation and save lives when she agreed to drive Epiha from the scene, was convicted of being an accessory after the fact of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.

But she was released immediately on time served and “pretty soon” after that hearing, police arrived with a search warrant at the Sandringham home she shared with then-partner Zion Hamuera Holtz, the court was told today.

As police raided the couple’s home in December 2022, Bracken was seen dropping a shopping bag containing nearly 1kg of methamphetamine out a bedroom window. Police would later discover messages on her phone through an encrypted app in which she discussed in barely coded language selling $5500 worth of meth.

Holtz, who has links to the Comancheros motorcycle gang, was sentenced in November to seven years and 10 months’ imprisonment.

Messages recovered from his phone indicated he was part of a drug syndicate where he bought bulk quantities of methamphetamine to supply a network of his own dealers, who sold the drugs in smaller quantities, according to court documents. He expressed interest in buying a kilo of methamphetamine for $145,000 in a message two days prior to the raid.

Defence lawyer Adam Couchman, who also represented Bracken at the High Court trial, argued today his longtime client should not be viewed on an equal setting with Holtz. While both defendants were engaged in the drug supply enterprise, Bracken had a lesser role, the defence lawyer argued.

The Crown disagreed, emphasising any suggestion she was “entirely subservient to Mr Holtz” would be strongly opposed.

“She is able to source it. She is also directly involved in supplying it to the market,” said Alysha McClintock, the Crown lawyer who also helped prosecute the High Court trial.

“Each of them has a role in this joint enterprise. Each of them is dealing with huge, wholesale amounts of methamphetamine.”

Judge Jelas ultimately agreed the co-defendants should have similar starting points.

She was also dubious of the defence’s argument Bracken should receive a discount for a dysfunctional childhood, noting that prior to her High Court sentencing she described her childhood as “great” and in a pre-sentencing report for the current charge described her childhood as “good but strict”.

Her lawyer painted a different picture, noting a distinction from her “childhood” and her “young teens”, when he said her life started to go off the rails. He described scenarios in which she said her parents would leave town and have her stay in a tent in the neighbour’s yard. She left home at 16 and at 17 got into an “extremely abusive” relationship, giving birth to twins to the same man at age 21.

All the while her methamphetamine addiction was growing and she was working in the sex industry, the judge noted.

The judge allowed a minor discount for Bracken’s addiction issues but noted she had smoked methamphetamine on the morning of Constable Hunt’s murder and she had been warned about getting help for her addiction during her prior High Court sentencing.

“You have potential,” Justice Geoffrey Venning told her at the time.

“You can still turn your life around but it is up to you to take the steps that you have to take to do that. You need to remove yourself from your association with people who use serious drugs, and people who have the sort of negative attitude towards police and authority.”

One of the biggest credits received by Bracken today was for her newest son - whose first name appears to be a reference to drug dealing.

While the child will continue to be with her in the specialised prison unit until he turns 2, the two will have to be separated after that.

Judge Jelas, who described Bracken as appearing from prison reports to be a “loving and attentive mother”, noted the separation would make the rest of the prison term especially hard for both mother and child.

“It is somewhat heartbreaking that this sentencing process will interrupt that bond,” the judge said.

In addition to the drug supply sentence, the judge ordered a concurrent sentence of 18 months for the messages in which she set up a drug deal.

The judge also cancelled Bracken’s huge backlog of fines - some dating as far back as 2011 - but added 10 days to her sentence to compensate. She would need to focus all her financial resources on the betterment of her and her son when released from prison, the judge explained.