The jury began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of NAU shooter Steven Jones after the defense and prosecution made their closing arguments.
Jones was indicted on one count of first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault. The 12-person jury is expected to return verdicts this week.
The prosecution made one last attempt to portray Jones as a killer who, after being punched in the face, chose to teach his victims a lesson by shooting and killing Colin Brough as well as injuring Nick Prato, Nick Piring and Kyle Zientek.
“The defendant couldn’t wait to shoot his gun and he didn’t give a second thought to stay in his car because his first thought was to fire his gun,” County Deputy Attorney Ammon Barker said. “He was punched in the face so the defendant wanted to enact his own sense of justice. ‘Double tap center mass,’ as he described it.”
Barker continued, stating that the only person who used deadly force during the early morning shooting was Jones.
“Nobody else that night was threatening deadly physical force but the defendant,” Barker said emphatically pointing at Jones. “The defendant brought a gun to what wasn’t even a fist fight but a verbal altercation.”
The defense, in contrast, used its last statements in front of the jury to allege that Jones and his friends Jacob Mike and Shay McConnell were not just in a verbal altercation, but a life or death struggle.
“You don’t need a weapon in your hand to be a threat to someone’s life,” Jones’ attorney Burges McCowan said, describing the seconds before Jones shot Brough and Piring. “Steven waited until the last minute before he shot and killed Colin Brough. If they had gotten his gun they would have shot him. Steven had a right to defend himself.”
McCowan continued, describing the group that fought with Jones as a drunk, angry mob.
“The prosecution stated you don’t bring a gun to a fist fight, but this was not a couple of guys saying let’s take it outside,” McCowan said. “This was a mob attack and these guys were very drunk and attacked for no good reason. They sucker-punched Steven, then chased and pursued them. The incident was unfortunate, but immediately necessary.”
The prosecution made a point of stating that Jones had options.
Barker said that the defendant could have gotten in his car, called the cops and drove away.
However the defense made a point of telling the jury that, under the law, Jones didn’t have to run away.
Jones’ attorney focused on the no retreat clause in Arizona self-defense law that allows someone to be in the area with a weapon as long as they are not instigating a situation or committing a crime.
“Steven does not have a duty to retreat and we all probably agree that other things could have been done,” McCowan said. “Steven is not breaking the law by brandishing a gun. He didn’t have to announce that he had a gun -- he did, but he didn’t have to.”
McCowan then reiterated that Jones waited until the last minute to fire his weapon.
The prosecution pounced on the defense’s closing statements during their final rebuttal by telling the jury that nothing Jones did constitutes self-defense.
“There is no law that says it is OK to point a gun at someone just because you have a gun,” Barker said. “Deadly physical force must be met with deadly physical force. Self-defense is out because Jones was in no apparent danger. Where was the apparent danger while he was in his car?”
Barker went even further, stating that if anyone had a right to defend themselves it was the victims.
“Colin Brough had every right to attack the defendant to protect himself,” Barker said. “As soon as a gun was pointed in their face they had every right to defend themselves.”
Both the prosecution and the defense mentioned to the jury a possibility of a lesser charge, meaning that a jury could find Jones not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of something else.
If the jury cannot come to an agreement on first-degree murder then the jury can find Jones guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide.
The jury could also find Jones not guilty on all counts.
A first-degree murder charge would require the state to prove premeditation beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that Jones thought about killing Brough and his friends before he did it.
Barker told the jury that a large amount of time does not have to pass to prove premeditation, but that Jones just needed time to reflect and think.
“Did the defendant have an opportunity to reflect? Of course he did!” Barker said. “He walked 150-plus feet, got his gun out of the glove box, chambered a round and then walked another 90 feet to the victim.”
Barker said that Jones knew he was going to kill whoever approached him first.
“The first person who dared to confront him got two shots to the torso,” Barker said, referring to Brough’s fatal injuries.
The prosecution attempted to provide themselves some protection in case a first-degree murder charge did not stick by telling the jurythat Jones was guilty of at least second-degree murder
Second-degree murder is considered a crime of passion, meaning that the defendant caused someone’s death and they knew their actions would cause someone’s death. Second-degree murder does not require premeditation.
“The state can prove second-degree murder because the defendant knew his actions would cause death,” Barker said. “What happens when you shoot someone in the chest? The defendant admits that a shot to the chest is fatal most of the time.”
Barker went on to state that the evidence creates “a picture of murder and an unjustified shooting.”
The defense stated that at worst Jones’ actions constituted negligent homicide, meaning that Jones failed to perceive the obvious risk of his actions causing the negligent death of another person.
“Steven showed incredible strength. He could have fired a lot more shots given how scared he was,” McCowan said. “If anything he was negligent and failed to recognize the risk, but he was not negligent under these circumstances. He didn’t fire his weapon until he was attacked.”
Barker said he would not waste the jury’s time explaining negligent homicide because that verdict would be a joke.
BURDEN OF PROOF
The burden of proof is on the prosecution, meaning that Jones does not have to prove he killed Brough in self-defense, but the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t kill in self-defense.
During closing arguments the defense continually reminded the jury that it is not Jones’ job to prove anything.
“It is the state’s burden. Steven doesn’t have to prove he was justified, the state has to prove that he wasn’t,” McCowan said. “Any doubt goes to Steven. If a threat is in the realm of possibility then it is a legal threat.”
Barker said that the prosecution proudly accepts the burden of proof and told the jury they have done more than enough to prove that Jones is guilty of first-degree murder.
“Colin was 20 years old. It was tragic and there is nothing we can do to bring Colin back,” Barker said. “We can’t stop the defendant from doing what he did that night, but you can find this defendant Steven Jones accountable for what he did by finding him guilty on all counts.”
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