Results of toxicology tests on the victims and suspect in a shooting at Northern Arizona University could bolster claims of self-defense, legal experts say.
Those wounded had alcohol, drugs or both in their systems, but the suspect did not, according to results released this week. The victims' blood alcohol levels exceeded what's considered legal for driving.
Steven Jones has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the Oct. 9 death of Colin Brough and to six counts of aggravated assault. Three other NAU students were wounded in the shooting.
Jones told police that he fired multiple shots from a gun he retrieved from his car's glove box because he felt threatened by a group yelling obscenities at him and threatening to kill him. Other witnesses said they heard bickering but weren't sure exactly what was said or who said it.
The shooting happened after at least one person punched Jones in the face outside an apartment complex.
Prosecutors have painted Jones as the aggressor, saying he could have walked away from the fight without resorting to gunfire. None of the victims was armed.
Phoenix attorney Jason Lamm, who isn't involved in the case, said jurors will have to weigh the credibility of every witness and that alcohol use will be a factor.
"In a case of self-defense, anytime a victim is that drunk, it's two strikes against them when the defendant is saying that he acted reasonably because he was in fear for his life," he said.
Defense attorneys also could argue that anyone who was intoxicated would be more aggressive and threatening, said Andrew Clemency, a senior lecturer at Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a former Maricopa County public defender. But, he said, "That's probably a reach."
"As a defense attorney, you're trying to look for any possible advantage you can get or excuse you can get," he said. "But if you're a college student getting shot while you're drunk, I don't know how that absolves the shooter."
Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Jones' attorney, Burges McCowan, said the toxicology reports call into question the victims' ability to recall the events that night accurately.
Nicholas Prato, Kyle Zientek and Nicholas Piring were wounded in the shooting. Lab results showed their blood alcohol levels were 0.09 percent, 0.18 percent and 0.21 percent, respectively. The state's legal limit is 0.08 percent.
An average from multiple tests showed Brough's blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit, according to his autopsy report.
Jones and his friends said they stopped outside an apartment complex across from the university to call a friend who became separated from the group, according to police reports. One of them rang the doorbell of the apartment Brough was in as a prank, and a group of students responded by yelling at Jones and his friends to leave.
About a minute later, witnesses reported hearing the first gunshots.
Jones had gone to his car to get his gun believing people still were chasing him but later said he realized no one was, the reports said. He got people's attention when he announced he had a gun and shone a light affixed to it on the crowd. Jones said people then started running toward him, which other witnesses disputed.
Brough and Piring were shot first from between 5 feet and 10 feet away, according to police reports.
Jones fired the .40-caliber gun again after being tackled on the ground, the reports said. Jones told police he believed his gun would be used on him if it were taken away.
When asked by police why he didn't drive away once inside his car, Jones said he couldn't find the keys he normally hung on his belt but were in his back pocket.