Nudson takes stand in murder trial Defendant tells court: 'I was trying to keep myself from getting shot'

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

It was standing room only in Kenai Superior Court A on Monday, as defendant Zebulon Nudson, 23, of Nikiski, gave a tearful account of the events at his Bastien Road home on March 12, 2000.

Nudson is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder and eight other charges for firing shots that day that killed Justin Meireis, 19, and wounded Robbie Meireis, 22, Rick Sanchez, 33, and Gary Waddington, 16. Harry Trenton, 35, also was present, but uninjured.

Nudson's eyes filled with tears as he answered questions about his family and childhood from defense attorney James McComas.

Nudson said his first encounter with Justin Meireis came in January 2000, when Nudson asked Meireis to leave a party at Nudson's home. Nudson related a long string of stories he had heard about the Meireis brothers' violent behavior.

Saying he believed the stories were true, Nudson characterized the two brothers as "highly dangerous."

Nudson said on March 11, 2000, he hosted a wake for Preston Lee, a friend of Nudson's, whose funeral had been earlier in the day. During the wake, he was told Justin Meireis had arrived and was "trying to start fights."

"I told him he wasn't welcome," Nudson testified. Meireis tried taking beer with him when he left and Nudson made him put it back.

"He looked at me and said, 'You're dead. You're f------ dead,'" Nudson recalled.

Later in the evening, Nudson saw Pat Conner walking up the driveway "all bloody." When he asked Conner what had happened, Nudson was told Conner had "been jumped" and that Meireis was back. Nudson started out the driveway with his guests to see what was happening, carrying with him what he described as "two sticks."

He described how a vehicle with one person being pulled through the driver's window accelerated, fishtailed and ran into a snowbank, almost striking Nudson and a group of girls.

When the driver, Rick Sanchez, got out and started fighting with another individual, Nudson used the sticks to strike the back taillights of the vehicle and Sanchez in the torso and on the hand.

"I was upset," Nudson said. "And trying to make a point."

Asked by McComas if he felt responsible for his guests, Nudson said, "Yes, for their safety at least."

Walking around the vehicle, Nudson asked Justin Meireis -- the passenger in the vehicle -- to step out. When Meireis did, Conner pushed past Nudson and began fighting with Meireis. However, Nudson said it was a short fight, and that guests began helping Sanchez and Meireis find the keys for the vehicle so they could leave.

Nudson returned to the house prior to Sanchez and Meireis leaving without their vehicle. Eventually the keys were found and the vehicle parked along the road.

"I started getting nervous and scared," Nudson said, not knowing what would happen and being told by roommate Zach Maley that Meireis had said, "I'll be back."

A third interruption at the wake came when Pauline Crowell, the girlfriend of Sanchez, arrived, screaming "Who beat my husband up with baseball bats?"

Nudson said he tried to calm her down.

"She said, 'You guys are going to get it. You guys are going down,'" Nudson recalled.

Telling her the keys were in the vehicle, he escorted her to the door, locked it behind her and told his guests, "The party's over."

When he finally went to bed at 4:45 a.m., Nudson said he told the individuals who spent the night at his house to lock the door behind them when they left.

"I laid there for about a half hour, listening. I thought they might come back," Nudson said of his concern that Meireis might make good on his threat to return.

The first sound to awaken Nudson was two of the guests leaving, after which he went back to sleep. Reminded by McComas of Maley's testimony earlier in the trial that Nudson had shut off Maley's alarm clock when Maley was on the downstairs phone later, Nudson said he did not remember it, that he had been sleeping soundly.

Then Nudson heard a "loud crashing glass sound."

Thinking people might have broken into his home, Nudson said he grabbed his rifle, picked up a 30-round magazine for it and slipped on his shoes.

Reaching the ground floor, he saw broken glass on the carpet and a vehicle parked in the driveway with two guys standing at the rear of it.

Nudson demonstrated for the jury how he crouched down and ran to the doorway, flipping the rifle safety off and shouting "Get the hell out of here."

Nudson said he didn't recognize the two individuals at the rear of the car, but did recognize Justin Meireis who, with his brother Robbie, was facing the house.

"Did you see them running toward the car?" McComas asked, as had been testified earlier in the trial.

"No," Nudson said. "They were facing toward the house."

Nudson said he also saw Robbie Meireis raise a pistol and heard the men outside yelling at Nudson to step outside.

"As the pistol came up, he was kind of walking forward, back toward the house," said Nudson, adding that he had never been more scared in his life.

"Were you trying to kill these boys?" McComas asked.

"No, not at all," Nudson answered. "I was trying to keep myself from getting shot."

Pointing the rifle out the broken windows in the home's door and storm door, Nudson, who wasn't wearing his glasses at the time, described shooting low, from one side to the other, and saw the men "scurrying around."

Crouching down behind his door, Nudson heard two pops, which he thought might have been gunshots. The car finally started moving and, as it drove away, Nudson said he fired more shots. For the next 15 minutes he remained crouched behind his doorway, waiting to see if they'd return.

"Did you know if you shot the car?" McComas asked.

"No," Nudson answered.

"Did you know if you shot a person?" McComas asked.

"No," Nudson answered.

Fighting tears, Nudson recalled how he finally went upstairs, grabbed his glasses, a sweatshirt, a pistol and shoulder holster. Returning downstairs, he also loaded a shotgun.

"What did you think was going to happen?" McComas asked.

"I had no idea," Nudson answered.

"What were you hoping?" McComas asked.

"That they'd get the point not to come back to my house," Nudson said.

Finishing his questioning, the defense attorney asked Nudson if he had called the troopers.

"No," Nudson said, adding that if he'd waited for the police he would "probably be dead."

Under cross-examination by John Wolfe, of the district attorney's office, Nudson was questioned about testimony given by earlier witnesses who said Sanchez and Justin Meireis had a gun and knife with them when they came to the wake, Nudson said he hadn't seen any weapons.

Reminded of earlier testimony that two shotgun shells were retrieved from the area around Nudson's front door after the shooting, Nudson said the witnesses were mistaken.

Recalling Nudson's testimony that he had yelled "Get the hell out of here," Wolfe asked him if he had warned the men outside his home that he had a rifle.

"No," Nudson answered.

Referring to marksmanship medals that Nudson said he received in the military, Wolfe asked, "If you're such an expert marksman, how come it is we have a dead person?"

"I did what I felt I needed to do," Nudson said. "I wasn't trying to kill somebody."

"Is it just coincidence that Justin (Meireis) took two bullets?" Wolfe asked of the bullet that struck Meireis in the back and the fatal blow that hit behind Meireis' right ear.

"Yes," Nudson answered.

Attributing Nudson's eyesight to the reason there was one death rather than five, Wolfe asked, "The real problem is that you didn't have your glasses on?"

"It's not that at all," Nudson said.

In closing, Wolfe asked the defendant, "If you had to do it all over again, you would do the same thing wouldn't you?"

"I would, because I believe it kept me alive," Nudson answered.

Returning to his seat, a weeping Nudson was comforted by McComas.

Other witnesses on Monday included U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Arthur Burgoyne, who testified to training Nudson had received for ambush and self-defense situations. (See related story, this page.)

Robin Feltman and Merrill McGahan, both of Nikiski, gave testimony concerning Nudson's character, saying he was an honest individual.

The trial reconvenes this morning at 8:30, with the jury viewing Nudson's residence.

Closing arguments are anticipated to be presented to the jury Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the jury trial started on March 22.

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