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Testimony will resume Tuesday 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. 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.
The final day of testimony last week involved medical and forensics discussions. Court was adjourned on Monday.
Lawrence Czarnecki, the local medical examiner, testified that the type of bullet which killed Colin Brough was a hollow point. He explained that it “mushroomed” after hitting its target, causing substantial damage to his ribs, lung, and both the biggest vein and the biggest artery in the body (which are part of the heart). The second bullet struck Brough in the shoulder. Brough’s blood tested at a .285 blood alcohol level. He also had marijuana and Xanax in his system.
The medical examiner also testified about stippling. He described stippling as flecks of gunpowder which penetrate the skin if a shot is fired at close range. Stippling appears as small dots and can help determine the general distance of the firearm from the victim. The medical examiner opined that the shot to the shoulder was fired at a distance of somewhere between two inches and two feet.
The distance for the chest wound is indeterminate.
The defense tried to suggest that the absence of stippling on Brough’s hands could have suggested that Brough was reaching or lunging at the victim and that Brough’s hands were more or less behind the muzzle of the gun at the point the one shot was fired. The medical examiner said that was possible, but that he couldn’t tell for sure.
Dr. Michael Ray, the emergency room physician who treated victims Prato and Piring, described the injuries to both of those two victims. He was not able to speculate about the distance between the shooter and the victims.
Terrence Weaver, a firearms and tool mark examiner with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, testified that he did not know if clothing from the various victims would have tested positive for nitrite deposits. Nitrite deposits are expelled from the muzzle of a gun when it is fired. Apparently, he denied a test to conduct this analysis. The defense argued that such a test might have determined the distance between victim Colin Brough and the shooter.
The defense also argued that an analysis of the ejected shell casings on the ground at the scene of the fight could have shed light on the actions of the defendant those who were picking a fight with him. Weaver indicated that such an analysis would have provided few reliable clues, since bullet casings can roll, bounce, be kicked by crowds of people, and accidentally bumped by paramedics on hard, flat surfaces, such as the parking lot area where the shots were fired.
Abbey Norcutt, the girlfriend of victim Nick Prato, testified that she heard the shooting, then ran across the street toward the scene. She remembered seeing Nick Piring laying on the ground in a bloody shirt. It was chaotic. She went to Piring first and called 911 at his request.
Then, she heard a second series of shots. About a minute transpired between the first and second bursts of gunfire. These shots were very close together, she testified, and she couldn’t tell who was shooting. She then went looking for her boyfriend. She found him in the middle of the street, yelling her name, and holding his neck. She recalled riding in the ambulance with Prato to the hospital and waiting for him while he was being treated.
During opening statements, defense attorneys said that this was a case of self-defense. Prosecutors said it was murder. They noted that after being involved in a verbal argument which resulted in a sucker punch, the defendant went to his car, retrieved his gun, and then returned to the scene before firing at Brough, Piring, Prato, and Zientek.