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Testimony will continue Friday 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.
Victim Nick Piring testified last week that his night started with a fraternity party. He went to an area near the fraternity known as the “courtyard” when he heard a verbal argument outside. He heard his friend Colin Brough’s voice. Brough would later die.
Piring testified that the argument was verbal, with a lot of “chest puffing,” but that it was not physical. The argument was profanity-laced, he explained to the jury, but at no point was any threat lodged about anyone being killed or hurt. He then testified to seeing what he thought was a flashlight. It was actually a tactical light attached to the top of the shooter’s weapon, he would later learn.
He testified that Colin Brough turned toward the individual with the “flashlight,” took two steps, then fell to the ground. He didn’t realize immediately that the “flashlight” was attached to a gun or that Brough had been shot. He ran to Brough’s aid, saw the “flashlight” turn to him. He was then shot.
The chain of events lasted less than a minute, he said. He never saw Brough “lunge” at the shooter, which is what at least one other witness claims to have occurred.
After a pause of about 30 seconds, Piring said, several additional shots were fired.
The next three witnesses to testify were in nearby dorm rooms. Some witnessed the entire shooting; some were awoken by it and then watched the scene unfold.
Jayelin Kunkle testified that approximately a minute elapsed between the first burst of shots (which hit the first two victims) and then second burst (which hit the two others). She testified that the group of people standing near the shooter “stepped back a little” just before the second round of shots were fired. She described the shooter as being in “panic mode” towards the end of the events. She agreed on cross-examination by the defense that the “confrontation” was “super violent,” “terrifying,” and contained “screaming.”
Valerie Pabon testified that during the commotion, someone was pushed; more than a minute later, she saw someone with a gun/flashlight. Then, she testified, the shots were fired.
Katarina Tatkin explained hearing some of Colin Brough’s last words: “I heard one of the victims on the ground screaming, saying that he was dying . . . it was Colin.”
Miqui Scollard was among those who ran to help. She used her hands to cover Nick Piring’s wounds. She didn’t know him at the time. Piring was screaming, so she tried to calm him. She thought she was going to be shot as well, she explained. Colin Brough was dying, she said, but she didn’t want to leave Nick Piring by himself.
Paloma Rochin testified that Colin Brough initiated the conflict by pushing Steven Jones. Rochin also said that after Brough and Piring were shot, nobody charged Steven Jones. From her perspective, no one jumped on Steven Jones to egg on the third and fourth shootings.
Nick Acevedo, who knew the victims, testified that Nick Prato punched “one of the guys” in the face. The person who was punched did not fall down. Following the punch, Acevedo couldn’t remember if anyone left the group of people arguing, but he did remember Steven Jones emerging from the dark. Jones turned on the light on his pistol and told everyone to “freeze . . . or something,” Acevedo testified. Jones was in a shooting stance, Acevedo explained. Colin Brough (who died) put his hands up in a questioning manner, took a step forward, and then, Acevedo testified, Steven Jones shot him twice. Acevedo estimates that Brough was five to ten feet away from Jones when Jones pulled the trigger. Brough fell down, and Nick Piring reacted, Acevedo recalled. Piring got shot as well.
“Steven pointed the gun at me, and I called him a freak. I called him a psychopath, and at that time he started crying,” Acevedo said. He then started caring for Colin Brough, who died.
Testimony resumed Thursday, April 13 after a five-day recess.
Austin Contreras testified that he was at the fraternity party in a patio area between several apartments when some unwanted visitors came along. Shortly after, a shouting match erupted out on the street. Contreras and his group followed the defendant and the defendant’s friends across the street. He admitted that he was drunk and “acting stupid.” When things escalated, he admitted to punching someone in the face.
At this point in the testimony, it is unclear just how many punches were thrown during the melee and exactly who was struck.
Contreras said that the crowd dispersed after he threw the punch and struck someone in the face. About a minute later, though, he said that gunfire rang out.
Jacob Mike testified that he was with the defendant, Steven Jones, and another friend, Shay McConnell, before the shootings. Mike explained that the three friends had knocked on a door while looking for a friend. They remained on the sidewalk in front of the apartments when a group of about a half-dozen people approached them. One punched Jones in the face, Mike testified.
Mike testified that several punches were thrown and that he and McConnell were pushed to the ground.
As he regained his composure, he saw Jones emerging with a weapon. As the others “rushed” towards Jones, Jones pulled the trigger.
Mike claims that as he and Jones tended to the wounded victims, someone started choking Jones.
Shay McConnell, another friend of the defendant’s, struggled on cross-examination by the defendant’s own attorney to recall his previous versions of the events.
In previous statements, McConnell stated that Colin Brough, the first person shot and the only one to die, had either “lunged” at the defendant or “run up” to the defendant. McConnell then agreed that Brough “lunged” at Steven. Then he said that Brough “took a large step, like a lunge toward Steven.”
McConnell didn’t see the second Victim (who turned out to be Nick Piring) lunge at the defendant. McConnell assumed, however, that Piring “possibly” lunged, because McConnell “hoped” the defendant would never shoot someone who hadn’t made a first move like that.
Chase Jones, who is no relation to the defendant Steven Jones, testified that he was inside his nearby dorm when he saw one of the victims fall to the ground. He went outside and convinced the defendant to put down his gun. He promised to watch the gun and to not let anyone take it until the police arrived. He said that the defendant was visibly shaking. He agreed that the defendant seemed cooperative around the point police sirens were noticeably approaching.
Defense attorneys said during opening statements that this was a case of self-defense. Prosecutors say it was murder, arguing that the shooter went to his car, retrieved his gun, and then returned to the scene before firing at the four students who were struck.
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