Individual rights and a fundamental procedural oversight by law enforcement personnel drew fire in Kenai Superior Court Friday.
On March 12, 2000, a shooting incident ended the life of Justin Meireis, 19, of Nikiski, and forever changed the life of Zebulon Nudson, 23, also of Nikiski. On Friday, those shots echoed in the courtroom of Judge Jonathan Link, as defense attorney Jim McComas and John Wolfe, of the Alaska District Attorney's office, wrestled with issues of evidence.
The March incident took place after Meireis, his brother Robbie, 21, Rick Sanchez, 32, Harry "Freddy" Trenton, 34, and Gary Waddington, 15, arrived at Nudson's home on Bastien Drive. Shots from Nudson, who claimed he acted in self-defense, also wounded Robbie Meireis, Sanchez and Waddington. Five days after the March shooting, a Kenai grand jury indicted Nudson on 10 felony counts -- one count first-degree murder, one count second-degree murder, four counts first-degree attempted murder, three counts first-degree assault and one count third-degree assault.
On Friday, with his family sitting behind him, Nudson listened as law enforcement officers answered questions about events following the shootings. Specifically, information was sought about:
n When and how Nudson was advised of his Miranda rights, including his rights to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning;
n Alaska State Troopers concern regarding the possibility of a second individual acting with Nudson; and
n The entry into Nudson's home by law enforcement personnel after Nudson was taken into custody.
Alaska State Trooper Jeffrey Laughlin and Sgt. Daniel Donaldson recounted a chain of events following their arrival at the Bastien Drive residence.
Seeking shelter behind snow berms from possible gunfire, troopers had made verbal contact with Nudson, who was still inside the home. Nudson reportedly asked the troopers to identify themselves, wanting to make sure "it wasn't those guys coming back."
Donaldson said he ordered Laughlin, who was in uniform that Sunday afternoon, to position himself so he could be seen by Nudson. Before leaving the residence, Nudson told them was the only one in the house.
"Nudson came out of the residence. I asked where his gun was. He said he had laid it down inside the door," Donaldson told Wolfe. "As Nudson came down the driveway, he was given instruction to walk toward us, turn around, face the house and go to his knees.
Donaldson said as Nudson approached, he voluntarily offered details of what had transpired earlier in the day.
After hearing the sergeant's testimony, McComas zeroed in on Donaldson's claim that information from the defendant was given prior to Donaldson advising him of his Miranda rights or giving him the opportunity to waive them.
"No other trooper claims (Nudson) was relating details," McComas said. "Do you disagree with (Trooper) Laughlin regarding statements made before Miranda (rights were given)?"
"I do not disagree," Donaldson said.
"Are (Laughlin's) statements accurate?" McComas asked.
"They are," Donaldson said.
Narrowing his questioning, McComas asked Donaldson specifically if Nudson had waived his rights.
"You didn't ask if he wished to waive them?" McComas said.
"Agreed," Donald answered.
At that point, Link interrupted the questioning, saying that once Nudson stepped outside the residence as directed by Donaldson, he was in the custody of Alaska State Troopers.
Therefore, Link ruled that Nudson's request for troopers to identify themselves and his statement that he was the only one in the house -- made while he was still in the residence -- would be permitted as evidence. However, he said he "had questions concerning the timing" of other statements Nudson made relating to type of firearms and number of shots fired by the defendant.
Wolfe and McComas also pulled information from five witnesses relating to entry into Nudson's residence after he was taken into custody, information given during interviews with the complainants and details Donaldson was given prior to obtaining a search warrant.
Trial date is set for March 12.
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