The first day of testimony is expected to begin Thursday morning in the murder trial of Steven Jones, a then-freshman at Northern Arizona University who shot four other students after an off-campus party on October 9, 2015. Jones claims that he acted in self-defense after being chased during a brawl. Colin Brough died in the attack, and Nick Piring, Nick Prato, and Kyle Zientek were injured. Jones is facing charges of first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated assault.
During opening statements on Wednesday, prosecutor Ammon Barker said Jones was an “assassin emerging from the darkness” when he shot four fellow students at Northern Arizona University on October 9, 2015.
Jones faces one count of first-degree murder and six counts of aggravated assault over the shooting.
One of the victims, Colin Brough, died in the attack. The three others who were shot were wounded.
“This case it not a ‘whodunit,” Barker told the jury. He said that the question for them was to ascertain the defendant’s intent in pulling the trigger.
Defense attorney Joshua Davidson gave a starkly different version of the events, immediately taking exception to the prosecutor’s “assassin in the dark” theory.
According to the defense, Jones, whose acquaintance had knocked on the fraternity door, was attacked when the crowd spilled out onto the street. He had “seconds” to determine how to defend himself, Davidson told the jury.
Jones was clean. He didn’t have a “drop” of drugs or alcohol in his system. By contrast, the surviving victims had blood alcohol levels of .181 (twice the legal limit), .092, and .208 (two and a half times the legal limit). The victim who died, Colin Brough, had a blood alcohol level of .285. Brough also had marijuana and Xanax in his system, the defense attorney explained.
These men were part of a crowd that started spewing expletive-laden threats at Jones. He was “sucker-punched out of the clear blue sky” so hard that his glasses fell off his face, defense attorney Davidson said. Jones needed the glasses to see.
Jones thought the crowd was chasing him, but couldn’t see clearly, the defense went on to say.
Davidson explained that Jones then retrieved his gun. He originally pointed it low to the ground in a “low ready” position. It was not pointed at anyone. Jones announced that he had a gun. He fired at Brough, who later died, when Brough “lunged” at him.
Jones “offered aid” to Brough after shooting him. He was “cooperative and peaceful” when police came, Davidson stated.
Davidson said that the events that unfolded do not amount to murder because there was “no premeditation – just a young man doing what he had to do to defend himself.”
Davidson said that the jury will be instructed about the law of justification and self defense. The burden of proof forces the state to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and over the defense of justification.
The defense pointed out that there will be disagreements over the events. The various witnesses saw things differently and at different times. The witnesses had “different perspectives,” both “visually” and “psychologically.” Some of the witnesses gave prior inconsistent statements. Some of the physical evidence won’t line up with the testimony, the defense stated.
The judge will not allow into evidence statements that Jones thought he was going to die. Those statements are “self-serving,” the judge ruled, and reminded attorneys of that decision before the jury heard the opening statements.
[Image via Northern Arizona University]