Former student pleads guilty in deadly 2015 NAU shooting as part of deal

Steven Jones in court (file)

A former Northern Arizona University student charged in a fatal shooting has pleaded guilty to manslaughter Thursday.

Steven Jones’ second trial was scheduled to begin later this month, years after a jury deadlocked on murder and aggravated assault charges.

Jones has acknowledged firing the shots that killed Colin Brough, 20, in October 2015 and injuring three other students. But he claims he acted in self-defense after being attacked both verbally and physically.

It initially stoked fears of a mass shooting at the school in Flagstaff, about 145 miles (233 kilometers) north of Phoenix. The gunfire at the campus with more than 25,000 students came just days after 10 people were killed, including the gunman, at an Oregon community college.

Prosecutors had painted Jones as an assassin whose pride was hurt after he was punched in the face outside an apartment complex where one of his friends rang a doorbell and ran off.

Jones could have left the scene of what largely was a verbal argument, prosecutors said, but instead went to his car, got a loaded .40-caliber handgun from his glove box and shot four unarmed students.

Under an agreement with prosecutors Thursday, Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter and three counts of aggravated assault. The deal calls for a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Jones’ faced up to 25 years if convicted of second-degree murder in a new trial. The charge recently was downgraded from first-degree murder. Jones also is charged with six counts of aggravated assault.

Brough died after being shot in the chest and shoulder. Nick Piring has said was shot in the arm and hip as he jumped over a bush to reach Brough, his onetime roommate. Jones said he viewed the jump as an act of aggression.

The initial dispute happened near an apartment complex across the street from Northern Arizona University and spilled over to the campus.

Jones’ attorneys said he didn’t shoot until after announcing he had a gun and not until after Brough lunged at him — details that varied among witnesses. Jones’ attorneys said he was bullied by a group of drunken fraternity members, verbally attacked and had only seconds to respond, believing he was being chased and could be seriously harmed or killed.

Jones, who was trained to use firearms growing up, said he fired again after students dog-piled him, trying to disperse the crowd. Nick Prato was stuck in the neck, and Kyle Zientek twice in the back.

Police arrived in the predawn hours and found a chaotic scene, with people running around, screaming and crying. Some were giving first aid to those who were shot and calling out for ambulances. Other students were handcuffed in a parking lot as police tried to determine whether there was a second shooting suspect.

Jones was detained within minutes of the shooting and told police he was the only shooter.

Dozens of people were listed as potential witnesses in the new trial, including people who would speak about the “peacefulness” of both Brough and Jones, if needed, prosecutors and defense attorneys said.

Jones has been in the custody of his parents.