Jury Delivers Split Verdict in Case of Former Backup Punter

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

Greeley, Colo. (AP) A Weld county jury has found former University of Northern Colorado backup punter Mitch Cozad guilty of second-degree assault, but not guilty of attempted first-degree murder.

The Wheatland, Wyoming resident had faced both charges in connection with a knife attack on starter Rafael Mendoza last September.

Jurors deliberated for a full day Wednesday before announcing Thursday morning that they had reached a verdict.

Bond was denied because the crime was committed with a deadly weapon, and Cozad was taken into custody pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for October 2nd.

Cozad did not testify in his own defense. He shook his head as the verdict was read, and was led away from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Mendoza stared at Cozad but said nothing.

Jury Foreman Tim Scholfield said it was not an easy decision for the panel to make, and none of the jurors were happy about having reached the conclusion they did.

But Scholfield said “we are all satisfied that, with the information given, this is the correct verdict.”

As the handcuffs clicked shut, Cozad's fiancee, Michelle Weydert, broke into uncontrollable sobs.

Mendoza was attacked last September 11th outside his Evans apartment. He testified he could not see who attacked him.

He was left with a deep gash in his kicking leg but later returned to the team.

Jurors returned their verdict shortly after 10 o'clock Thursday morning after starting deliberations Wednesday. Testimony covered five days, most of that taken up by prosecution witnesses.

Prosecutors say Cozad stabbed Mendoza in a desperate bid to get the starting job, but the defense said it was another student who attacked Mendoza.

Jurors deliberated until about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Earlier, they sent a note to District Judge Marcelo Kopcow asking “does intent to cause death need to be present or can it come later?”

After conferring with prosecutors and the defense, Kopcow sent a reply that did not directly answer.

The question apparently troubled Cozad. He has been stoic for most of the trial but appeared shaken after Kopcow announced his response and left the courtroom.

The jury was not present at the time.

Defense Attorney Joseph Gavaldon said Cozad was “scared to death.”

Mendoza told reporters Wednesday that football has been a refuge from his haunting memories of the attack.

He says, as soon as he stepped on the field, his mind cleared -- and he had nothing going on in his mind except his teammates and playing football.


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