Closing arguments contrast claims of self-defense, illegality of taking a life

Jury to decide fate of Nikiski shooter

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

Twelve people -- a jury of his peers -- hold the future of Zebulon E. "Zeb" Nudson, 23, of Nikiski, in their hands.

Nudson says he shot in self-defense on March 12, 2000, seeking to drive away Justin Meireis, 19, Robbie Meireis, 22, Rick Sanchez, 33, Gary Waddington, 16, and Harry Trenton, 35, when the group of five arrived at his home.

One shot fired by Nudson struck Justin Meireis in the back. A second shot, which killed Meireis, grazed his right shoulder before striking him behind the right ear. Also wounded were Robbie Meireis, Sanchez and Waddington.

As a result of the incident, Nudson was indicted for one count of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, four counts of first-degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault.

On Wednesday, closing arguments given by John Wolfe, of the district attorney's office, and the defense team of James McComas and Cindy Strout were reviewed before the jury turned to testimony given during the three-week trial.


Defense attorney James McComas, surrounded by props which include Zebulon Nudson's front door, at right, makes his closing arguments to the jury Wednesday afternoon.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Witnesses testified that things turned sour at Nudson's home the night of March 11, 2000, when Justin Meireis showed up for a wake being held in honor of Nudson's friend, Preston Lee. When Nudson asked Meireis, who did not know Lee, to leave, witnesses testified Meireis told Nudson, "You're dead, you're f------ dead."

Meireis returned later that evening with Rick Sanchez, and fights broke out between Meireis, Sanchez, Nudson and Nudson's guests. When Meireis and Sanchez left, they vowed to return. Pauline Crowell, the girlfriend of Sanchez, showed up later, demanding to know who had beat up her husband. After seeing her to the door, Nudson announced that the wake was over.

Both sides in the case say that the Meireis brothers, Sanchez, Waddington and Trenton were seeking revenge when they went to Nudson's home the following day. The sound of the brothers breaking out the glass in Nudson's storm door and front door awoke Nudson. In the brief minutes that followed, Nudson fired 18 shots, including the one that killed Meireis.

Wolfe reminded the jury that much of the evidence presented had been conflicting, and witnesses' memories of events weren't always the same.

"It's the jury's job to sort through the information ... and determine the facts," Wolfe said.


Photo by M. Scott Moon

John Wolfe, of the district attorney's office, finishes his case for the state.

Admitting the five individuals -- the Meireis brothers, Sanchez, Waddington and Trenton -- were "not model citizens," Wolfe encouraged the jury to be careful how they used information about the men's backgrounds that was presented during the trial.

"We don't get to kill people we don't like," Wolfe said. "We're not here to determine if the people should live or die.

"Most people feel they're not qualified to make those judgments," Wolfe told the jury. "Those are things discussed in coffee shops. But this is not a coffee shop."

"The sole issue," Wolfe said, "is did (Nudson) have a legal right to kill another human being."

"This was not self-defense," Wolfe continued. "This was Zeb mad. ... This was Zeb getting even."

McComas referred to testimony given by U.S. Staff Sgt. Arthur Burgoyne concerning marksmanship training Nudson had received in the military, training that led to response based on "muscle memory."

"He was firing to suppress fire," McComas said, referring to the 9-mm handgun Robbie Meireis had with him. Adding that Nudson was trying to drive the group away from his home, McComas told the jury, "That's all Zeb was trying to do."

Under the circumstances, McComas said, Nudson's actions were "fairly restrained."

Telling the jury that in order to judge Nudson, the 12-member panel had to feel what he felt.

"Don't resist it," McComas said. "Don't intellectualize it. Feel it ... just a little ... and you'll find the truth."

"The time has come to give this young man back his name. This is not 'the defendant.' This is Zeb. Zeb Nudson. And he committed no crime," McComas said in closing.

Strout recreated the events of March 12. Referring to Nudson's home, Strout asked the jury, "Is there anywhere in the world where Zeb should have felt more safe than in that cabin?"

Taking advantage of the prosecution's opportunity to have the last word, Wolfe told the jury, "This isn't a court of public opinion. It's a court of law."

Summing up the state's case, Wolfe said, "The defendant did not have the right to take Justin Meireis' life."

Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link read the instructions to the jury and reviewed the charges against Nudson.

Reminding the 12 individuals that they were the sole judges in the case, Link charged them with deciding Nudson's fate.

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