Thursday, June 07, 2018

Accusation of "Conflict of Interest" Backfires in NAU Self Defense Trial

Almost three years ago, Steven Jones, an 18-Year-Old freshman at the Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff, and his two friends, were attacked by a drunken mob of fraternity members. One fraternity member ran up to Jones and sucker punched him. Jones friends were down on the ground defending themselves. The fraternity members chased him. Jones ran to his car and retrieved a legally owned and transported Glock pistol. One drunk fraternity member came at him and he fired, killing that member and wounding two others.

According to evidence presented at the first trial, there is little dispute about those facts. The main contention is whether Steven Jones was justified in shooting.

The incident happened on 18 October, 2015. It was characterized as a school shooting by the media and the University. Jones was charged with first degree murder.

Steven Jones cooperated with authorities from the beginning.  Police video from the scene shows that. The video was initially withheld from the jury because it was "prejudicial".  All of Jones attackers were legally intoxicated with alcohol. Most of them had traces of marijuana in their blood. Jones had neither. After the jury was allowed to see a partial transcript of the police video, the trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial.

Here is a link to the police bodycam video.

Parents of one the students who was shot by Jones filed allegations of conflict of interest of Jones attorneys in the case. The tactic backfired. The attorneys have said they cannot realistically continue the defense while under threat of removal because of the conflict of interest charges. The conflict of interest charge has delayed the second trial.

The earliest date for the second trial of Steven Jones is now sometime in October of 2018. From
A jury in Steven Jones' first trial deadlocked on murder and aggravated assault charges, and he had been scheduled for a retrial in July.

However, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton granted a request from two of his attorneys to push back the date but didn't immediately set a new one. Jones remains free during the process.

The attorneys said Jones doesn't want other counsel, but they can't focus on his case while the State Bar of Arizona investigates a conflict of interest allegation against them filed by one of the victims.

Slayton said he considered the impact of asking lawyers Bruce Griffen and Ryan Stevens to withdraw, leaving in place a third defense attorney who has said he doesn't feel confident taking on the case alone. Slayton said that could lead to claims of ineffective counsel and potentially a third trial.

Notice the Arizona Daily Sun picks sides by claiming the students shot by Jones are the victims. One of the points to be settled by the trial is who were the victim/victims, and who was/were the aggressor(s)? As shown by the hung jury in the last trial, the answer is not as obvious as the early media reporting suggested.

The many checks and balances in the American court system can cause trials to be long and expensive. The common wisdom is delay favors the defense. In this case, delays move the case away from the overheated reporting that the shooting was a rampage murder event. Only as evidence was slowly released, was the possibility of a legitimate self defense shooting revealed.

No one knows how a second trial will go. It is unclear if Judge Slayton (also the judge in the first trial) will again withhold the video evidence from jurors.

The individual who admitted to sucker punching Jones has never been charged.

The prosecution in the Steven Jones case comes from the Coconino County Attorney's office.  This is the office that persecuted Harold Fish.

Harold Fish was in prison for three years before the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed Fish's conviction.  Arizona law on self defense was reversed to what it had been, 9 years earlier, because of the Harold Fish case.  The case was so egregious, the legislature voted three times to reverse itself, with the legislation being vetoed twice by Democrat and former prosecutor, Governor Janet Napolitano.

If Jones had to defend himself using the rules Harold Fish was forced to operate under, he might have been found guilty at the first trial. It happened to Harold Fish. The appeals court reversal in the Harold Fish case was about the suppression of evidence.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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