Evidence collected after a 2001 shooting into a divorce lawyer's Palmer Lake home has been destroyed, an El Paso County sheriff's investigator told jurors Monday at the ongoing trial of accused sniper shooter Bruce J.
Gone from the sheriff's evidence storage are three metal fragments thought to be pieces of a bullet fired into the home of John and Tammy Ciccolella in June 2001, said El Paso County sheriff's detective Jeff Nohr.
Nohr said the fragments - along with a piece of a barbecue grill authorities say was hit by the bullet - were destroyed by an evidence technician in November 2008.
Nohr said he discovered the evidence missing in June 2011 after performing an audit at the request of Colorado Springs police, the lead agency in a sweeping, decade-spanning investigation that resulted in Nozolino's June 2010 indictment in a 2008 murder and three earlier shootings they suspect were motivated by Nozolino's acrimonious divorce.
The disclosures came on a shortened day of testimony at the trial of Nozolino, a former Lockheed Martin software engineer accused in the slaying of his ex-wife's former lover and three other shootings targeting a judge and a lawyer involved in the divorce.
Testifying for the prosecution about his efforts to re-create the shooting into the Ciccolella home, Nohr offered a brisk explanation for the missing evidence, saying that because it was cataloged as evidence collected on behalf of an outside agency - in this case the Palmer Lake Marshal's Office, which responded to the shooting - no one examined it before it was destroyed.
Contacted for additional details by The Gazette, a sheriff's spokesman said an evidence technician "acted well within office policy" before destroying the material.
Under sheriff's policy, evidence collected on behalf of outside agencies is "kept for three years before it's destroyed," Lt. Jeff Kramer said in a written statement.
In this case, the evidence technician waited four years longer than is typical, Kramer said.
"Prior to having the evidence destroyed, the Evidence Technician checked the court computer and found no court proceedings related to this evidence because Nozolino had not yet been arrested," Kramer said. "Furthermore, at no time did we receive a call from another agency asking that a hold be placed on the evidence."
The Gazette didn't receive a response to an email sent Monday afternoon requesting comment from Colorado Springs police.
It hasn't been made clear in court whether investigators completed forensic testing on the missing metal fragments prior to their disposal - or even if forensic testing on such tiny items could reveal much of value.
Nozolino's attorneys have questioned in court whether investigators have even established that a shooting occurred - alluding to a "magic bullet" in questioning and suggesting the Ciccolellas were targeted by a slingshot rather than a gun.
The attorneys say authorities have no physical evidence tying Nozolino to the shootings and are instead prosecuting him based on "theories" and by emphasizing his reputation for vindictiveness.
Prosecutors say they will prove Nozolino was driven to exact revenge on those who crossed him.
The Nozolino trial was recessed after a little more than an hour of testimony Monday because presiding judge Victor I. Reyes had court business in Pueblo, where he is normally assigned.
Reyes was appointed to hear the Nozolino trial to avoid allegations of bias because Nozolino is accused of targeting an El Paso County judge.
Testimony is expected to continue at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.