Coconino County jail facility officials confirmed that Steven Jones reported to jail Friday evening to begin his prison sentence after pleading guilty in the case of the Northern Arizona University shooting.
Four years after Jones shot four NAU students in a parking lot, he will begin his time served before his sentencing hearing. Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter and three counts of aggravated assault. The judge is scheduled to deliver the news of how long Jones will be in prison at his sentencing hearing on Feb. 11.
According to the plea agreement, Jones will likely be sentenced between 5 and 10 years in prison for the aggravated assault of Nick Prato, Kyle Zientek, and Nick Piring and for the manslaughter of Colin Brough. While there is a provision in the plea deal that allows Judge Dan Slayton to reject the plea deal’s 5- to 10-year sentencing range, a judge rejecting a plea deal is rare.
Jones began his incarceration Friday at 5 p.m. Slayton did not arrest Jones immediately after he pleaded guilty, but instead gave him a week before ordering him to report to jail.
“Oftentimes when someone is convicted at a trial or pleads guilty, they’re taken into custody immediately. The judge allowed him a week to get his affairs in order essentially and ordered that he report back to self-surrender today,” said Rich Robertson, a private investigator with R3 Investigations that was hired by Jones’ attorneys.
In many cases, defendants charged with first-degree murder are held in prison while awaiting their trial. Jones was allowed to leave jail and live under the protection of his parents in Maricopa County, get a job and attend online school so long as he did not get a curfew.
The case has taken many twists and turns since Jones’ mistrial in April 2017.
The trial argued the events of Oct. 9, 2015, when Jones and his friends got into a fight with Delta Chi fraternity brothers. Jones lost his glasses when he was punched in the face and eventually returned to his car as the fight moved onto campus.
Jones grabbed his .40 caliber handgun and returned to where witnesses reported the people had "spread out." Jones eventually shot four of the students, including Brough, who died.
In the trial, Jones’ defense attorneys argued he acted in self-defense, while prosecutors accused him of responding to his hurt pride after being punched and portrayed him as an assassin. The jury unofficially dismissed the first-degree murder charge, and was split six-to-six on the question of whether it was second-degree murder or self-defense.
After announcing the case had resulted in a hung jury, Jones waived his speedy retrial.
Since the mistrial, Jones has had several different lawyers represent him after attorney Joshua Davidson left the case. Settling on attorney Christopher DuPont, Jones pushed on and also hired a private investigator to reassess the case.
The case’s first-degree murder charge was initially dropped to second-degree murder in December, after Jones’ lawyers tried to take the question of whether the unofficial jury verdict should require the state to drop first-degree murder to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Prosecutors responded by dropping the first-degree charge in December, saying they wanted to avoid any more delays in the case.
Scott Buffon can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.
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