FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Prosecutors said they will reduce the charge against a former Northern Arizona University student in a fatal 2015 shooting on campus from first to second-degree murder.
A court filing Thursday by the Coconino County Attorney's Office says appeals on behalf of Steven Jones otherwise would result in further delays of a retrial that “would be detrimental to the interests of justice,” including speedy trial rights of victims.
Jones also is charged with aggravated assault.
Steven Jones in court (file)
His attorneys argued that even though a judge declared a mistrial because of a hung jury he was actually acquitted of first-degree murder and that trying him again on the charge would amount to double jeopardy. They based their argument on the accounts of some jurors and a recorded conversation that Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton had with jurors after they were dismissed.
Jones acknowledges firing the shots that killed the 20-year-old Colin Brough and injured three other students. Jones maintains he fired in self-defense, but prosecutors say he unnecessarily retrieved a gun from his car and was the aggressor.
Slayton declared a mistrial in 2017 after jurors deadlocked on murder and aggravated assault charges. The retrial has been postponed several times. It is currently set to start in January.
In a November hearing, Slayton said not all jurors weighed in on whether the jury had reached a not guilty verdict on first-degree murder when he spoke with them after the trial ended.
The jury returned a blank verdict form and answered “no” during the trial when it was asked if it reached a verdict on any count. Prosecutors said acquittal cannot be implied based on later interviews with jurors.
They also said Jones forfeited his double jeopardy argument because he didn't object to the court declaring a mistrial.
Jones' attorneys said he would have responded differently to the declaration of a mistrial had he known about Slayton's conversation with jurors.
In their filing Thursday asking Slayton to reduce the charge, the prosecutors said they stood by their legal arguments but that further delay in resolving the case is unwarranted.
“More than four years after (Jones) shot four NAU students, and two and a half years after his first trial, the victims' right to a speedy trial is best served by amending the indictment to second-degree murder," the prosecutors wrote. "The state has consulted with the victims in this case and they concur with this action."