Defense attorney: Acquit or dismiss

Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2001

Defense attorney James McComas tried to bring the case against Zebulon Nudson of Nikiski to a close Wednesday, asking for Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link to either acquit or dismiss the case.

Nudson is being tried for first-degree murder for the March 12, 2000, fatal shooting of Justin Meireis. Also wounded in the incident were Robbie Meireis, Rick Sanchez and Gary Waddington. Harry Trenton was present during the shooting, but unharmed.

McComas claims his client shot in self-defense after the Meireis brothers, Sanchez, Waddington and Trenton came to Nudson's Bastien Road home seeking revenge.

"This is an outright violation of your order," McComas told Link on Wednesday, of a reference made by Dale Bivins, of the state of Alaska crime lab, to the "path of bullets in the vehicle" in response to questions posed by John Wolfe of the district attorney's office.

Link ruled earlier in the case that the trajectory or path of bullets is not to be considered in the trial since that is an area scientifically impossible to prove, according to Link, due to the number of variables and the ability for ammunition to be easily deflected.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Bivins apologized to the court.

"It's not you, Mr. Bivins," McComas said. "It's not you."

Excusing Bivins from the courtroom, Link, Wolfe and McComas reviewed Bivins' testimony and discussed direction given to him by Wolfe.

Link said the danger was if the jury drew conclusions based on Bivins testimony about bullet paths.

"None of that has happened," Link said.

"This has happened," McComas countered. "It can't be ignored."

It was the second time Wednesday morning that McComas objected to responses given by state witnesses. His earlier objection also caused Link to clear the jury from the courtroom when testimony from David Hanson, investigator with the Alaska State Troopers, described the location of bullets retrieved from the vehicle in relation to trajectory points.

"The court should terminate the case because of bad faith of the prosecutor," McComas said, pointing to Wolfe. "If you don't, it will continue ... . This is a murder trial that never should have been indicted. ... This isn't good. This isn't good. Enough is enough."

Link denied McComas' motion to either acquit or dismiss, saying it lacked merit and would be overturned by the Court of Appeals. McComas then asked to have Bivin's testimony stricken, but Link denied that request for the same reasons.

With the jury back into the courtroom, Link told the jurors, "You may be tempted to try to figure out how bullet holes line up. ... You must not do so."

He also told them that to speculate was "unfair and improper."

Other testimony on Wednesday came from Trooper James Helgoe, who had interviewed Waddington and Robbie Meireis at Central Peninsula General Hospital shortly after the incident.

During cross-examination by McComas, Helgoe reviewed the portion of the interview during which Waddington said Robbie Meireis had a 9 mm handgun with him when the five men went to Nudson's home. McComas also had Helgoe read aloud the interview with Rick Sanchez, during which Helgoe retrieved the pistol.

Robert Shem, forensic firearm examiner at the state's crime lab in Anchorage, testified that 13 of the 18 shell casings found at Nudson's home had definitely been fired from the rifle -- a replica of an AK-47 -- found at Nudson's residence.

He also linked two shotgun shells found in a garbage can on Nudson's porch to a 20-gauge double-barreled shotgun with a pistol grip also taken from Nudson's home.

Shem said during testing of the shotgun, he discovered the trigger pull on one barrel was "very light" and could be discharged by the recoil of the second trigger. He characterized that discovery as an "eye-opener."

Jim Wolfe, a supervisor criminalist at the crime lab, provided testimony regarding pieces of vehicle lights found in the driveway and on the road in front of Nudson's residence. He also explained the process used to determine that the plexiglass in Nudson's front door had been broken by blunt force from the outside, rather than the inside.

The state is expected to finish presenting its case this morning, beginning at 8:30.

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