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Legally Speaking: What’s next in the NAU shooting case after mistrial?

FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2016 file photo, Steven Jones listens as his attorney Joshua Davidson, not shown, argues for Jones's bail to be modified during a hearing in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff, Ariz. A murder case against the former Northern Arizona University student in a 2015 shooting that killed one person and wounded three others ended in mistrial Tuesday, May 2, 2017 after the jury deadlocked on the charges. Jones was charged with first-degree murder and lesser counts in a shooting that rattled the normally serene campus and forested city of Flagstaff. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun via AP, File)

Typically, when you read my posts or tweets or hear me talking about Northern Arizona University, you will also hear a “Go Jacks!”

As an alumni of NAU, I am very proud of my old stomping grounds.

However, I am saddened and disappointed that my beloved alma mater will be forever associated with the NAU shooter case.

I am even more saddened and disappointed that the families involved in this case will have to wait even longer to start healing from this unimaginable ordeal.

Back in October 2015, an altercation occurred between several college students. Steven Jones shot and killed Colin Brough and injured three others outside an apartment complex near the Northern Arizona University campus.

Jones was charged with first-degree murder and several counts of aggravated assault. Although the prosecution was not seeking the death penalty, the murder charge carried with it a punishment of life in prison.

On Tuesday, after three weeks of trial, 37 witnesses and roughly five days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked and Coconino County Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton declared a mistrial. The next court date is scheduled for Aug. 1.

What happens next? You could say that it is all up to the prosecution. They have three choices: go forward with another trial, offer a plea agreement or dismiss the case.

The latter is not going to happen, so let’s look at the first two options.

Should the prosecutor go forward with trial, a brand new jury will have to be selected. The state would then have to convince 12 strangers what it couldn’t convince the first 12 that Jones was not acting in self defense and is guilty of first-degree murder.

Any trial attorney worth their salt will tell you that there are no guarantees. You can try, but are seldom successful, to predict what the jury will do.

So, in this case, would the prosecutor be better off going with the devil it knows (a plea agreement) or the devil it doesn’t (a new jury)?

In contemplating this decision, the prosecutor will take into consideration the facts and the evidence as well as the wishes of the victims. Arizona’s Victim’s Bill of Rights dictates the state must listen and take their wishes into account but it is not required to do what the victims want.

The prosecution still has the ultimate authority on whether to go forward or not. After a short cooling off period, we will learn what is going to happen.

Some are asking if the jury failed. The answer, at least in my mind, is a resounding no. They did their job.

The jurors are charged with the responsibilities of listening to everything that happens in trial, putting their prejudices or biases aside, judging the credibility of witnesses, understanding the laws and instructions and ultimately deciding another human being’s fate.

On top of all that, 12 strangers forced together are expected to agree. That is a tall order.

The jurors in this case had to decide if Jones intentionally killed Brough with premeditation. Along with that, they had the responsibility to decide if Jones was justified in doing so.

In other words, they had to wade through all the evidence, testimony, law and instructions and determine if a reasonable person, in Jones’ shoes, would believe that shooting the victims was immediately necessary to protect himself against them. They also had to decide if what the victims were doing was “unlawful deadly physical force.”

Confused yet? Have questions? That is exactly my point.  It is not easy or clear.

So in asking if the jury failed, ask yourself if you could have done anything differently.

The next court date is not until August, but we will likely learn before then what option the prosecutor has decided to pursue. The unimaginable cannot be erased and the families involved have to live with Jones’ decision on that fateful night for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, the rest of their lives will not begin until the case is over.

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