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Gazette Premium Content New evidence in Nozolino trial brings up possibility of mistrial

By LANCE BENZEL The Gazette - Updated: January 31, 2014 at 11:43 am

So far, the evidence against him is circumstantial.

But after nearly 13 years on the hunt, investigators have a new shot at coming up with physical evidence against suspected sniper-shooter Bruce J. Nozolino.

In what qualifies as a bombshell announcement at Nozolino's ongoing revenge-shooting trial in 4th Judicial District Court, prosecutors on Thursday informed a judge they intend to pursue testing on two newly discovered rifles that Nozolino sold to a hunting partner in 2001 - the same year as two of the four shootings for which he stands accused.

Lead prosecutor Donna Billek said rifles - whose existence became known to police this week - raise the possibility of producing a forensic match in the case.

Whether that's even possible depends on the condition of bullet fragments recovered during a decade-long police investigation.

Authorities believe the fragments are sufficiently intact to be compared against the rifles, she said.

"The quality isn't the best, but I'm not the expert who's going to be looking at it," Billek told the court of the bullet evidence in the case.

Investigators have spent years tracking down rifles belonging to Nozolino, but so far, none have produced a match to the shootings.

The newly found rifles - a Savage Arms bolt-action .22-250 and Olympic Arms AR-15 .223 - are in the possession of Richard Bland, a cattle rancher in Texas who told authorities during an interview this week that he bought them from Nozolino more than a decade ago, when Bland was living in Guffey.

The sale occurred in 2001 - the same year as shootings into the homes of Nozolino's ex-wife's attorney, John Ciccolella, and the judge who presided over his case, Gilbert Martinez.

Bland testified Thursday that he has turned the weapons over to his attorney, and Colorado Springs police are working to gain access to them for forensic testing, Billek said.

Investigators will either have the rifles shipped to Colorado Springs or seek to have a Texas law enforcement agency test-fire the weapons and then mail the test-fired bullets for analysis, Billek said. A timetable wasn't discussed.

The goal is to find out if bullet fragments from the shootings contain a microscopic "fingerprints" left by a rifle barrel. An analysis involves comparing the fragments to bullets fired by the newly discovered rifles.

If testing leads to a forensic match in the case, it has the potential to roil Nozolino's ongoing trial, now in its third week.

In a discussion held in court outside the presence of the jury, Nozolino's attorney, Tina Tussay, said she didn't "anticipate" a match but that if one were made it would likely lead to heated debate, if not a request for a mistrial.

"If they come in with a match now, then we're going to have a big discussion," she said, adding that the lack of a forensic match is central to Nozolino's defense - and to the promises his attorneys have made jurors during jury selection and opening statements.

When Tussay said that a match would be a "mistrial issue," Reyes responded: "Maybe."

Reyes emphasized the discussion was "totally speculative" but asked attorneys to be prepared for a courtroom battle over the consequences of any new forensic evidence.

If no match is found between the rifles and bullet fragments, the trial is unlikely to be affected.

Why Bland didn't disclose the rifle transaction sooner is unclear.

He testified that a conversation with a police detective earlier this week "jogged his memory" about the sale, but he had plenty of opportunities to disclose the information sooner.

In 2001, Bland surrendered to police two rifles he had been holding for Nozolino as a favor. According to Tussay's arguments in court, he has since been interviewed by Colorado Springs police "eight times" about his interactions with Nozolino, all without mentioning the guns.

Bland is a retired defense contractor and Air Force reservist who once commanded a security squadron at Peterson Air Force Base. He said he met Nozolino, a former defense contractor, in the 1990s through work.

The men went hunting together and also competed at shooting competitions.

Prosecutors say an "unrelenting desire to win" drove Nozolino to kill his ex-wife's former lover, shoot her defense attorney in the eye and shooting into the homes of the attorney and a judge who presided over the case.

So far, their case has been propelled by testimony about Nozolino's "obsession" with his divorce and his vindictive, threatening behavior toward each of his alleged victims - but prosecutors have yet to introduce DNA evidence, fingerprints or forensic analysis tying Nozolino to the crimes.

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