(You can watch the trial above with legal analysis when it starts at Noon EST or 9:00 PST. If you’d prefer a raw feed of the trial, scroll to the bottom of the article.)
Testimony will resume Thursday 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, killing one of them. Jones claims that he acted in self-defense after being chased during a brawl. Prosecutors allege that Jones was merely sucker-punched by drunken fraternity members and that the shooting was not justified.
Colin Brough died in the attack, and Nick Piring, Nick Prato, and Kyle Zientek were injured. Jones is facing one charge of first-degree premeditated murder and six charges of aggravated assault.
All three surviving victims have testified. Piring testified early in the trial. Prato and Zientek testified Wednesday, April 19th.
Prato testified that he was across the street when the altercation began. Initially, it was verbal, from his perspective. He saw a bright light in the parking lot. He described the light as “blinding,” and he assumed it was a police officer or a security guard’s flashlight. He said the light was scanning the area; then, he said, it approached Colin Brough and Nick Piring. He remembered the light shining on him for a second, then returning focus to Brough and Piring.
The light, described by almost every witness to the case as extremely bright, was a tactical light attached to the top of the shooter’s weapon.
“I remember seeing the light, and I remember seeing Colin with the flashlight right on his face, and then I heard gunshots,” Prato said. The shooter was 10 to 15 feet away from Brough when the light was first pointed at Brough. According to Prato, the shooter moved closer to Brough before firing. He did not see Brough move before the gunshots. (Some other witnesses have testified that Brough was moving toward the shooter.)
Prato remembers hearing four to five gunshots. He was some distance away, either across the street or halfway across the street, when Brough was shot. Brough fell forward. Nick Piring jumped into the air, he testified, as if he was trying to avoid a gunshot, Prato said. Piring was also hit.
Prato ran toward the scene, rather than away from it, to help his friend, he said. “I knew my friend was in trouble; he was bleeding,” he explained.
Prato said that when he approached, Brough was “on his back. His shirt was covered in blood; his eyes were wide open. He was looking up at the sky. He didn’t say a word.” He recalled shaking Brough and trying to talk to him. Nick Acevedo was next to him and was also tending to Brough.
Prato looked at the shooter long enough to identify him.
Prato said he then took a couple steps forward, but the shooter pulled the gun on him. The shooter was in a seated or kneeling position when he pulled the gun out. He doesn’t even recall if the shooter made eye contact with him.
“I took a couple steps forward. Next thing I knew, I was looking down the barrel of his gun,” Prato said.
“I got shot through the neck,” he said.
“It’s the most intense pain you’ve ever felt in your life, pressure-wise, and sharpness, but at the same time, the adrenaline and the shock kick in and you’re so amped up that it’s almost like you’re being numbed, like someone has an ice pack on the wound, but it’s like you got hit with a sledgehammer,” he testified.
Prato says he has lasting effects from the wound to his neck. Some nerves had to be re-connected during surgery, and he is unable to move his left arm above his shoulder.
Prato faced a lengthy cross-examination by the defense. attorneys for Steven Jones attempted to call out discrepancies between the testimony of Prato and his earlier statements in the case.
Flagstaff Police Officer Kevin Sapp testified briefly that he found Prato in a nearby dorm after the shooting. Northern Arizona University student Adam Johnson said he was in the area to retrieve a forgotten backpack and witnessed some of the post-shooting commotion.
Victim Kyle Zientek testified that when Colin Brough fell after being shot, it was “like a statue being knocked down.” He said that the shooter pointed the tactical light in his face and held it steady for a time. He realized it was a gun, then turned around and tried to run away. The shooter “wasn’t very close,” he testified.
When he turned to run, he was shot in the back. He dropped to the ground. He says the shot made his body go numb.
Zientek’s memory from there becomes fuzzy, he said. He remembered another person standing over him and telling him to “hang on.” He recalled being in the ambulance, then waking up in the hospital. He was struck in the buttocks and in the lower back. He had a broken rib, lost a kidney, and had to have part of his intestines removed. He was forced to wear a colostomy bag. He described being left with a “pretty gnarly scar” after multiple surgeries.
On cross-examination, Zientek admitted to having a lot to drink before he was shot. He did not contest the toxicology reports that he was over twice the legal limit for driving.
The defense forced Zientek to admit that he said nothing about the tactical light on the gun during a police interview some time shortly after the shooting. He was also cornered by the defense for having previously told a police officer that he was running “toward the shooter to get his gun.” Zientek told the officer, “I don’t know, I might have turned, like turned, he was walking west and I was walking north, I don’t know.”
On re-direct, Zientek clarified that he was on morphine in the hospital during the interview with police that defense attorneys were discussing. He said he was so drugged up that he barely remembers the interview. As he recovered and stopped taking medication, his memory became more clear, he testified.