Jury finds Brooks guilty of criminally negligent homicide
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Jessie Brooks was found guilty Monday of criminally negligent homicide in the shooting death of 23-year-old Bobby Rogers. But the jury found Brooks innocent of the more serious charge of reckless manslaughter.
After the jury’s verdict was read aloud by 9th District Judge T. Peter Craven, Brooks put his face in his hands and tears began streaming down his face. Many of Brooks’ friends and family members sitting behind him in the courtroom also sobbed quietly.
The verdict came in at 3:30 p.m., less than four hours after the jury was sent off to deliberate.
The shooting occurred April 2, 2003, in Carbondale, while Rogers was hanging out with Brooks and his fiancee, Lea Zugschwerdt. The couple was moving into a townhouse at 1360 Barber Drive on the day of the shooting. After drinking some beers and a couple of shots throughout the day, the group ” which by then included friend Nathan Paullin ” came back to the house.
Around 11 p.m., Brooks and Rogers were wrestling around in the kitchen of the townhouse.
Rogers was holding a .22-caliber pistol, and as they wrestled he pressed it against Brooks’ cheek. Brooks pushed the pistol away and the pistol fired, hitting Rogers in the forehead, killing him instantly.
Prosecutors never accused Brooks of intentionally killing Rogers, but rather for being negligent by having guns around while people were drinking.
While defense attorney Arnold Mordkin said he was disappointed in the guilty verdict, he said it could have been worse.
“I’m obviously happy we succeeded with the manslaughter, but I was obviously hoping for not guilty all around,” Mordkin said in the hallway shortly after court was adjourned.
The jury could have convicted Brooks on the more serious reckless manslaughter charge, which carries a possible two- to six-year prison sentence, and instead chose to find him guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a class 5 felony.
The worst-case scenario for Brooks is a one- to three-year prison sentence, but Mordkin said he’s hoping his client receives probation with no jail time. Brooks is set to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 4.
“It’s a felony, so it has all the ramifications of a felony. He can’t own a gun, but I don’t think that will be a problem for him,” Mordkin said.
Deputy district attorney Gretchen Larson said she feels good about the outcome even though the jury didn’t convict Brooks on the more serious offense of reckless manslaughter.
“This was a success,” she said. “We’re very pleased with the jury’s verdict. We wanted to make sure Jessie Brooks was held responsible for Bobby Rogers’ death.”
Larson said she felt the tape-recorded interview of witness Nathan Paullin, along with forensic evidence that disputed Brooks’ version of events, most convinced the jury to find Brooks guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers said the shooting was both tragic and unnecessary.
“I think it would be prudent to think about how this tragedy came to be,” Myers said. “I hope people will evaluate their feelings about guns and liquor.”
Larson and Myers said they’re not sure if they’ll ask for prison time in the case.
“There are so many factors,” Larson said. “We’re just very happy with the jury’s verdict. It’s justice for Bobby.”
After the jury received its instructions Monday morning, 9th District Attorney Mac Myers gave the prosecution’s closing statements.
Much of his closing argument centered around inconsistencies between statements made to investigators shortly after the shooting and testimony given in court during the trial.
When Brooks and witness Nathan Paullin were originally questioned about the incident, Myers said their stories could be woven together sensibly.
During the trial, however, Paullin testified that he forgot many of the events and that he was intoxicated when they happened.
Myers also insisted that Brooks’ story changed when he testified in his own defense on Thursday.
“He acknowledged making those statements, but he disavowed the truth of those statements,” Myers said.
The statements in question involved how long the .22-caliber gun ” the gun from which the deadly bullet was fired ” was out. Brooks had testified that he never saw it out, while Paullin’s said in the police interview that the gun was out for five or 10 minutes.
Brooks’ defense attorney Arnold Mordkin said Paullin was confused and mixed up the .22-caliber gun with another of Brooks’ guns, a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
“He squished the whole thing together and when he added two plus two he got 22 instead of four,” Mordkin said. “He blurs things together and was confused.”
In Mordkin’s closing statements, he held up a graduated cylinder with tape around the middle and a strip of tape at the top. As he went through the evidence, he poured brown liquid into the cylinder. The tape in the middle symbolized a not guilty verdict, while the tape near the top signified “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The evidence, Mordkin argued, left some doubt and certainly did not rise above the threshold of reasonable doubt.
Mordkin surmised that the incident happened this way: Bobby Rogers saw the .22-caliber gun, put in a loaded clip, pulled back the slide ” which would have loaded the gun ” then pushed the button that lets the clip out.
Mordkin said that even if Rogers again racked the slide ” which with most semi-automatic handguns would eject the bullet ” the bullet would have remained in the chamber because the gun didn’t have an extractor. Instead, the gun’s barrel pops up and a chambered bullet can be pulled out by hand.
“In order to find Mr. Brooks guilty, you’ve got to find he was playing with this gun to the point that he put it to Mr. Rogers’ forehead and pulled the trigger,” Mordkin said.
He also said Paullin’s statement to police had many inconsistencies.
“Why would you believe this statement? It’s got more holes than Swiss cheese,” he said.
The jury’s verdict shows they didn’t agree with Mordkin’s logic.
“I thought (the evidence) was all strong in our favor,” Mordkin said. “It’s always a concern when you have a lesser included offense that the jury will choose a less difficult path.”
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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