Friend testifies about Nozolino's whereabouts during attorney shooting

By LANCE BENZEL The Gazette - Published: January 24, 2014 | 7:55 pm 0

The day after a divorce lawyer was shot by a sniper in downtown Colorado Springs, a man accused of pulling the trigger phoned a friend and asked him to vouch for his whereabouts, according to testimony at an ongoing revenge shooting trial.

"He said something had happened around town and that it was important that I remember that he had been at the house the day before," Kevin Smith said of defendant Bruce J. Nozolino, who had spent the morning of the lawyer's Jan. 23, 2002 shooting at Smith's house helping him construct an unfinished basement.

But while the lawyer, John Ciccolella, was shot at roughly 6 p.m., Smith said Nozolino left his house at 1:30 p.m. and didn't return.

In testifying on Friday, Smith said he didn't recall Nozolino giving him a reason for his request. Prosecutors indicated Smith gave a different account to Colorado Springs police when interviewed about the phone conversation in 2002.

Then, Smith reportedly told a detective that Nozolino had told him "Beverly's attorney had been dusted and he was a suspect," and that Nozolino specifically asked him to tell police that both Smith and his wife were present with him that day.

Asked on the stand if Nozolino ever talked about the victim, Smith replied, "Not to me." He later revised his answer, telling jurors:

"Mr. Nozolino didn't much care for the man."

Smith, a manager at Oracle Corp., said he befriended Nozolino in the late 1990s when their daughters attended school together. He took the stand Friday as prosecutors continued a predominantly circumstantial case against Nozolino, a 52-year-old former defense contractor charged in what they allege are a series of divorce-related revenge shootings, including the 2008 slaying of Richard Schreiner, with whom Nozolino's ex-wife had an affair.

Prosecutors also elicited testimony that in March 2001 -- months before the alleged revenge shootings began -- Nozolino asked Smith if he could keep some weapons at his friend's home because he didn't have a secure place to store them after moving out of the family home.

Together, the men built a kind of gun cabinet made to blend in with the exposed joists along the ceiling of Smith's unfinished basement, Smith testified.

Smith, who kept his own guns in a safe and a different rifle behind a locked door, testified the men wanted out-of-the-way storage so that "an intruder" didn't locate the weapons.

Colorado Springs police eventually obtained a search warrant and ended up searching Smith's home and seizing Nozolino's guns - five or six "long guns" and two or three pistols.

He said his friendship with Nozolino cooled and that the men stopped talking in the early 2000s.

"There was a lot of this stuff going on," Smith said, gesturing to indicate the courtroom around him, "and I had somewhat of an issue with that."

The last straw, though, was that Nozolino had been borrowing tools without returning them promptly, he said, telling jurors: "It started to kind of irritate me."

Jurors also heard from Tammy Ciccolella and two of the couple's sons about a June 2001 shooting into the Ciccolellas' home.

Investigators found no bullet after that incident but did discover inside the house a small piece of metal they say came from a barbecue grill outside.

Fourth Judicial district attorney's investigator Gabriel Firpo - formerly an El Paso County sheriff's detective - testified that after studying the scene, he hypothesized that a .22-caliber bullet hit the grill and propelled the metal into the home like shrapnel.

Firpo said he and his partner used a dowel rod and string to reconstruct the projectile's probable flight path through the Ciccolellas' back yard to a point on Sun Ridge Circle where the shooter was likely crouched.

A former neighbor of the Ciccolellas, Jan Bristol, testified that a few weeks before the shooting, she saw a pickup parked at the end of her driveway on Sun Ridge Circle after dark on at least one occasion, its headlights directed at the Ciccolellas' bedroom window.

Bristol said she became suspicious but didn't consider the truck a direct threat to anyone and didn't call the police at the time.

A juror who fell asleep on Thursday -- prompting the judge to recess court early -- was back in the jury and no further problems were reported.

Testimony is expected to continue 8:30 a.m. Monday.

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