January 14, 2014 Updated: January 14, 2014 at 8:45 pm
Prosecutors alleged Tuesday that an "unrelenting desire to win" drove an embattled Colorado Springs defense contractor to kill his ex-wife's lover and to try to kill her divorce attorney, the judge who handled the case and their families.
The laundry list of allegations came as a long-awaited trial began for Bruce J. Nozolino, who has pleaded not guilty to 31 counts including first-degree murder and attempted murder in four shootings spanning from October 2001 to November 2008.
"He had the means. He had the motive. He created the opportunity," lead prosecutor Donna Billek told a panel of 12 jurors and three alternates, tying the shootings to what she portrayed as Nozolino's bitter defeats in a contentious divorce from his ex-wife Beverly, including losing custody of the couple's children and the loss of a well-paying job in the private defense sector.
A former Lockheed Martin software programmer, Nozolino, 52, has publicly denied involvement since the early 2000s, and his attorneys countered Tuesday that prosecutors are pursuing their case based on "theories," not evidence.
"No evidence means no murder," attorney Jesse Glassman said, telling jurors they will learn of no DNA link, no eyewitness descriptions of the shooter, and no forensic ties to any of the roughly 20 firearms that belonged to Nozolino, a target shooting enthusiast.
He said prosecutors will portray his client as a "gun nut" and focus on his reputation for pestering lawyers and court staff involved in the divorce.
The shootings include the Nov. 30, 2008, slaying of Richard Schreiner, who was shot once in the side while shoveling a sidewalk outside his Stetson Hills home. Billek said he was targeted because of a "fleeting affair" with Beverly Nozolino nine years earlier, when the marriage was severely strained and Nozolino was living in the couple's basement.
Among those in the gallery was John Ciccolella, the divorce lawyer who lost an eye on Jan. 23, 2002, to a single bullet into his law office in downtown Colorado Springs. His wife, Tammy, dabbed at tears as prosecutors described the attack - and as they recounted how six months earlier, bullets flew into the family's home in Palmer Lake as she sat reading a cookbook at the dining room table.
Also spectating was 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez, who became a victim while presiding over the couple's divorce.
According to Billek, Martinez was on the couch inside his Briargate home watching a Colorado State University football game on Oct. 13, 2001, when bullets entered his house - one flying "so close he could feel it." He and his wife spent the rest of the night on the couch clutching baseball bats and "listening to glass" drop from a shattered window, Billek said.
Both of the surviving victims are expected to take the stand during what is scheduled to be an eight-week trial. Testimony is slated to begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Presiding over the murder trial is Pueblo District Judge Victor I. Reyes, who was appointed to avoid the appearance of bias because the allegations involve a local judge. Judges from the El Paso County bench have been recused.
Investigators pursued Nozolino for better part of a decade until a Grand Jury voted to indict him in July 2010, nearly two years after the Schreiner homicide.
While defense attorneys disputed the shootings were related, Billek sought to tie each incident to a recent setback for Nozolino that she said roiled his "unrelenting desire to win."
Six weeks before Schreiner's murder, for example, the government revoked Nozolino's security clearance because of issues related to his divorce, and he was fired from Lockheed Martin, Billek said. To get even, he went after the person who started it all, she added.
Glassman countered that Nozolino suffered more significant losses with no evidence of reprisals, and noted that "thousands" of people could have harbored a grudge against the legal officers who were targeted.
"The bottom line is, saying so doesn't make it so," Glassman said.
Nozolino, who faces a life sentence if convicted, is already looking at a lengthy prison term. He was convicted of perjury and witness intimidation at back-to-back trials last year, and Reyes handed down a 21-year sentence.
Both cases revolved around allegations that arose from the murder investigation and Nozolino's subsequent arrest.
Nozolino is also known in Colorado Springs for his anti-tax advocacy alongside activist and former state legislator Douglas Bruce, a friend and political ally who was not in attendance Tuesday.