Almost three years ago, Steven Jones, an 18-year-old freshman at the Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff, along with two of his friends, were attacked by a drunken mob of fraternity members. One frat boy ran up to Jones and sucker punched him while Jones’ friends were down on the ground defending themselves.
The fraternity members then chased him. Jones ran to his car and retrieved a legally owned and transported GLOCK pistol. When another drunk fraternity member came at him, he fired, killing him and wounding two others.
The incident has been characterized as a school shooting by the media and the university. Jones was charged with first degree murder. According to evidence presented at trial, there is little dispute about those facts. The only point of contention is whether Steven Jones was justified in pulling the trigger.
All of Jones’ attackers were legally intoxicated. Most of them had traces of marijuana in their blood as well. Jones had neither. Jones cooperated with authorities from the beginning as police video from the scene confirms. The video was initially withheld from the jury because it was “prejudicial.”
After a jury was allowed to see a partial transcript of the police video, the trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial.
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 can’t realistically continue the defense while under threat of removal. The conflict of interest charge has delayed the second trial.
The earliest date for a second trial of Steven Jones is now sometime in October of 2018.
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 claims the students shot by Jones are victims. One of the points to be settled by the trial is who were the victims that night and who were the the aggressors? Given the hung jury in the last trial, the answer isn’t as obvious as media reporting suggests.
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 initial overheated reporting that the shooting was a rampage murder. Only as evidence was slowly released was the possibility of a legitimate self defense shooting revealed.
No one can predict the outcome of a second trial. It’s 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 case comes from the Coconino County Attorney’s office. This is the office that persecuted Harold Fish. Fish was in prison for three years before the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed his conviction. Arizona law on self defense was reversed to what it had been as a result. That 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. We’ll be watching his second trial closely.
©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.