Brought together by actions of their sons on the afternoon of March 12, 2000, Ron Meireis and Larry and Annette Nudson, all of Nikiski, sat only a few feet apart in Kenai's Superior Court Room A on Friday.
In front of them, John Wolfe, of the district attorney's office, displayed a series of photos detailing the fatal gunshot wounds that took the life of Justin Meireis, 19, nearly one year ago.
As the images on the screen changed, Ron Meireis sat quietly, with legs crossed, his hands clasped together. Before him, colored images of his son's head, shoulder and back wounds dominated the courtroom.
Across the aisle, Larry and Annette Nudson also watched the screen. Larry Nudson kept his arm around his wife's shoulders. A half wall separated the couple from their son Zebulon Nudson, 23, who watched the screen from a chair next to his attorney James McComas, of Anchorage.
So began the jury trial of Nudson, who faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder, for the shooting at his Bastien Road home that killed Justin Meireis and wounded Robbie Meireis, Rick Sanchez and Gary Waddington. Another individual -- Harry Trenton -- was with the Meireis brothers, Waddington and Sanchez that afternoon, but was unharmed.
In Friday's opening statements, Wolfe and McComas introduced the case to the jury of eight women and six men.
shoot in the back people who are fleeing, it is not self-defense, and it is not defense of your home," Wolfe told the jury. He said "anger and malice" fuel such actions.
"The evidence will show that the defendant started shooting as soon as the people got into the car and until he could no longer shoot," Wolfe said.
He described Nudson sweeping up the casings after the incident, waving to a neighbor and talking with friends.
"He admitted to friends that he was the shooter," Wolfe said.
Wolfe told the jury experts would testify about the number of guns fired and the direction the shots came from.
According to Wolfe, Justin Meireis attended a wake held the previous evening at Nudson's home for Nudson's friend, Preston Lee. At the party, Wolfe said, Meireis "argued, was slightly drunk, was not too respectful of the deceased and offended people." Later in the evening, Meireis invited Sanchez to go back to the party with him.
"But Justin didn't tell him that he had already been kicked out of the party," Wolfe said.
When the two went back, another fight broke out.
"As (Meireis and Sanchez) were leaving, a crowd gathered around the vehicle and someone opened the passenger-side door and people proceeded to beat on (Meireis and Sanchez)," Wolfe said, displaying a photo of a bruised Sanchez. He added that Nudson had taken part in the beating on Sanchez "with some sort of piece of wood."
According to Wolfe, Meireis' brother, Robbie -- whom Wolfe described as an assaultive individual -- became angry the next day when he saw Sanchez' injuries heard about what had happened. The Meireis brothers then borrowed a vehicle, picked up Sanchez, Trenton and Waddington, and returned to Nudson's house, backing into the driveway.
"Justin was hollering obscenities," Wolfe said of what took place in front of Nudson's home.
He said Robbie Meireis had a 9-mm pistol with him and the men were also armed with a tire iron. One of them broke out the glass and plexiglass on the screen door and front door and tried opening the door, but it was locked.
"These actions, with the intent to beat up Zeb (Nudson), constitute burglary," Wolfe said.
Seeing Nudson with a gun, Robbie Meireis hollered to his friends that they should take off, Wolfe said. They ran down the driveway and jumped into the car.
Wolfe said Nudson's first shot came from a shotgun, but the next came from a Mac-90 semiautomatic rifle.
"The evidence will show that what he did went far beyond self-defense," Wolfe said.
Wrapping up his opening statement, Wolfe asked the jury for a verdict that will say, "Our society does not condone vigilante justice."
McComas, however, began his case by describing Nudson's actions as "restrained."
"He reasonably believed he had to suppress fire from them," McComas said, describing the Meireis brothers, Sanchez, Trenton and Waddington as "five thugs."
The defense attorney's version gave another angle to the March 12 events. McComas described the direction from which the glass and plexiglass on the doors to Nudson's home were hit as "a point of high ground" from which "the truth can flow."
"Science has determined beyond a doubt that Zeb didn't break the glass," McComas said. "But that's not what the (grand) jury heard."
"This case began with lies and slowly, but surely we're getting through the lies," McComas said.
He drew five key points, beginning by saying Zeb Nudson was in his own home. McComas said every time Justin Meireis arrived at Nudson's home -- twice during the wake and with his brother and friends the following afternoon -- the violence and the weapons escalated. He said Nudson had heard stories about the Meireis brothers' assaultive behavior, and when Nudson was awakened by a loud noise and saw the five individuals in front of his house, he thought he had been fired upon. McComas said the "Meireis gang wanted the blood to flow."
"The more we hear, the more it sounds like they didn't care whose," he said.
Finally, McComas pointed out that the two Meireis brothers had tried to break into Nudson's home.
"They were trying to get into the house to kill him," he said.
McComas characterized Justin Meireis as "the tragedy in this case," referencing the impact of his older brother Robbie Meireis' criminal background.
"The legal and moral fault is not on Zeb (Nudson)," McComas said, "But on (Justin's) brother."
Drawing his closing arguments to an end, McComas said, "Zeb (Nudson) had a bigger gun and higher ground, so he was able to defend his life and protect his home."
Testifying for the state on Friday were Carl Swarz and Douglas Nightingale from Nikiski 2 Fire Station, where the individuals went for help after leaving Nudson's home. Alaska State Trooper Jeff Laughlin testified about the condition of the automobile driven away from Nudson's residence by Gary Waddington, 15. Two emergency room physicians -- Craig Doser and Stephen Hileman -- testified about the treatment given to Waddington and Justin Meireis at Central Peninsula General Hospital.
Testimony being given by Pauline Crowell, the girlfriend of Rick Sanchez, will continue on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
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