Is he a killer driven to seek revenge by an "unrelenting desire to win" - or a patsy being dragged through the courts on the basis of "fear" and thin evidence?
Attorneys on opposite sides of the revenge-shooting trial of Bruce J. Nozolino framed the case against him in starkly contrasting terms Monday during closing arguments in front of a packed gallery in a 4th Judicial District courtroom.
After seven weeks of sparsely attended proceedings, court staff had to set out additional seating for spectators, and several were turned away because of space limitations.
Arguments lasted for more than three hours.
Prosecutors are expected to deliver a rebuttal argument Tuesday morning - the final word before the case goes to the jury for deliberations.
Nozolino, a 52-year-old former defense contractor, faces 31 counts, including first-degree murder, on allegations he took aim at players in his bitter divorce from the end of a sniper rifle - allegedly killing his ex-wife's former lover in 2008, partially blinding her divorce lawyer in 2002 and shooting into the homes of the lawyer and a judge in 2001.
Prosecutor Deborah Pearson on Monday portrayed Nozolino as the one man with the motive, the opportunity and the means to carry out the attacks, and she provided a blow-by-blow comparison of the timing of the shootings against Nozolino's defeats in his divorce.
According to the prosecution, divorce lawyer John Ciccolella's home was shot into in June 2001 within days of a judge awarding a $10,500 award to Beverly Nozolino, and Judge Gilbert Martinez's home was targeted in October 2001 after he approved an effort to garnish Nozolino's tax return to collect on the money.
Prosecutors tied the Jan. 23, 2002, shooting into Ciccolella's downtown law office to ongoing hostilities, and said Richard Schreiner, his ex-wife's lover, was killed Nov. 30, 2008 - weeks after Nozolino lost his Top Secret government security clearance.
To illustrate Nozolino's intent, Pearson asked jurors to consider his "words and actions," citing allegations that he bullied his ex-wife, taunted cops and allegedly tried to intimidate judges by delivering documents to one judge's Denver-area home and called another at home on a Saturday morning.
Pearson said Nozolino laced his actions with vaguely worded threats, such as "you'll be seeing me around," which he directed to Martinez's staff after the judge was targeted with gunshots into his home.
The prosecution met stiff resistance in the form of a two-hour counterattack by defense attorney Tina Tussay, who raised her voice to a near-shout in asking jurors to reject the charges.
Invoking a popular children's tale, Tussay charged that while prosecutors promised the jury "Stone Soup," they delivered what she called "a big pot of nothing" - seasoned by fearful accounts of Nozolino's alleged vindictiveness but devoid of physical evidence such as DNA, fingerprints, eyewitness accounts or a match to any of the guns in Nozolino's collection, she said.
"There is nothing here," she said. "Nothing to connect Bruce Nozolino to any of these crimes."
Tussay discounted any link between the shootings and Nozolino's courtroom losses, accusing prosecutors of exaggerating her client's anger and cherry picking from the hundreds of orders and rulings in the divorce.
She labeled as "desperate" a jailhouse informant who claimed Nozolino confessed to the crimes, and suggested another man lied in reporting that Nozolino had sought to hire him to kill his ex-wife and others, calling them "investment opportunities."
Echoing her client's public statements about the charges, Tussay called Nozolino a victim of finger-pointing by Ciccolella, who she said steered law enforcement groups toward Nozolino after each shooting and supplied them with "every bit of evidence in this case."
In pursuing Nozolino, police discounted his alibis and failed to pursue alternate suspects, Tussay said.
Suggesting a conspiracy, Tussay noted that during the early 2000s, police were quoted in The Gazette discussing a second shooting into the Ciccolella home around the time of the Martinez shooting. Although no such shooting occurred, it had the effect of making the shootings appear to be linked, and making Nozolino out to be the obvious suspect, she said. Ciccolella and a police detective testified during the trial that the shooting didn't occur.
Tussay said the "made up" claim appeared in court filings related to the divorce and in a document laying out why federal authorities sought to revoke Nozolino's Top Secret government clearance.
Tussay pointed to possible involvement by two alternate suspects, both of whom battled Ciccolella in court.
They include a former Vietnam veteran and alleged "gun nut" who asked a co-worker if he knew anyone willing to kill his ex-wife's attorney. The other man "bragged" that the shot that wounded Ciccolella would have gone through double-paned glass, a detail Tussay said hadn't released publicly.
The prosecution's rebuttal is expected to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.