Zebulon E. "Zeb" Nudson, the Nikiski man on trial for killing Justin Meireis and wounding three others on March 12, 2000, was found innocent on all 10 charges against him early Thursday afternoon in Kenai Superior Court. The jury deliberated Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
"Not guilty on all charges and specifications," read Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link from the jury's decision.
Applause rang through one side of the small courtroom where 23-year-old Nudson's future was debated over the past three weeks. The other side, which included supporters of Meireis, sat silently. Crying jurors hugged each other as defense attorney James McComas raised his fists in victory before hugging Nudson. At least two jurors hugged Nudson after they were dismissed.
Link polled each of the jurors individually, asking if the not guilty verdict was their true feelings.
"Absolutely," said one. "Definitely," said another.
Link then released Nudson from his bail and set him free.
Link quoted President Dwight Eisenhower as saying jury duty is every bit as important as military service.
"There is no need to explain to you how hard this is," Link told the jury. "I appreciate your service. You were an attentive jury."
Outside the court house, Assistant District Attorney John Wolfe said the case is closed as far as his office is concerned.
"The jury has spoken," he said.
"We knew from the start that this would be a difficult case, but the seriousness and the facts of the case, which were egregious, made us put this before a jury," he added. "We did not want a government official sanctioning this killing. We wanted a jury to decide."
Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell agreed, when reached later Thursday afternoon.
"It was a case that a Kenai Peninsula jury had to decide," he said. "The jury made a decision, and I respect that."
He added that the circumstances of the shooting were such that Nudson's guilt or innocence was not a decision he or someone in his office should make.
"When someone fires somewhere between 15 and 20 shots ... with the car moving away, it seems to me that's a factual decision a jury must make," McConnell said. "It seemed like extreme use of force to me, but a jury heard all the facts, and I respect that."
On his way out of the courtroom, McComas, an Anchorage attorney, said neither he, Nudson, nor any member of Nudson's family would speak to the Clarion. A call later to the Uptown Motel, where the defense team was staying, reached co-counsel Cindy Strout, who repeated McComas' refusal to comment.
Members of Meireis' family could not be reached for comment.
Nudson was acquitted of 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. He was charged for firing 18 rounds from an assault rifle at his home on Bastien Road in Nikiski that killed Justin Meireis, 19, and wounded Robbie Meireis, 22, Rick Sanchez, 33, and Gary Waddington, 16. Harry Trenton, 35, was in the same car as the others but was not injured.
If he had been convicted, Nudson would have faced up to 99 years in prison on each of the murder and attempted murder counts.
McComas argued during the three-week trial that his client shot in self-defense after the Meireis brothers, Sanchez, Waddington and Trenton came to the home seeking revenge after an incident at a party there the night before.
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