February 22, 2014 Updated: February 22, 2014 at 6:04 am
An FBI agent who specializes in crime scene assessments testified Friday that a 2008 homicide and three earlier shootings in the Pikes Peak region appear to be the work of a lone sniper nursing a grudge against each victim.
Supervisory Special Agent Robert J. Morton said the notion that the Colorado Springs area had four unrelated sniper shootings between 2001 and 2008 defied common sense, given the statistical rareness of sniper attacks.
"In my conclusion, they're all linked," he told jurors.
The testimony came on a day prosecutors rested their case against revenge-shooting suspect Bruce J. Nozolino after seven weeks of testimony seeking to link him to four shootings involving players in Nozolino's acrimonious divorce.
The former Lockheed Martin software engineer is charged with 31 counts accusing him of killing his ex-wife's former lover in 2008, partially blinding her divorce lawyer in 2002 and shooting into the homes of the attorney and a judge in 2001.
Morton, who is detailed to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, didn't name Nozolino as a suspect but his conclusions about a lone shooter pursuing a "common scheme" tracked closely with the motive and tactics alleged against Nozolino.
Sniper shootings - involving what Morton called a planned, surprise attack - are "extremely rare" in the United States, Morton told jurors.
Of the 14,180 murders in the U.S. in 2008, four people died as the result of sniper attacks, Morton said.
Just one of those was killed with a rifle - Colorado Springs resident Richard Schreiner. Authorities say Nozolino suspected Schreiner, a former Air Force Academy employee, of having an affair with his then-wife.
That the Colorado Springs area reported four such attacks in seven years suggests there is a "greater chance they're linked together," Morton said, discounting the theory the shootings were random and unrelated.
In supporting his conclusion that the shooter was exercising grievances, Morton pointed out that one of the victims, divorce lawyer John Ciccolella, was targeted twice in two years - once with a shooting into his Palmer Lake home and later with a shot into his downtown law office that left Ciccolella blind in one eye.
It's not unusual for serial offenders to wait years between attacks or to switch up their tactics in a bid to "perfect" their crimes, Morton said.
Morton said he based his conclusions on a review of the investigative case file and visits to each of the four shooting scenes. He said he considered the severity of the attacks, the locations of the shootings, the "nature of the community," the "nature of the victims," the type of weapon used and the victims' interaction with the suspected shooter.
Morton's testimony that the shootings were related came over the objection of Nozolino's defense team, which has argued there is insufficient evidence to suggest the shootings are related.
The defense fought to have the four shootings tried separately, but presiding Judge Victor I. Reyes ruled that a single trial was appropriate given evidence the shootings are "interconnected."
The jury heard testimony from Colorado Springs police weapons trainer officer Paul Malchow, a former SWAT sniper.
He told jurors the four shootings attributed to Nozolino would be "easy to moderately difficult" to pull off after eight hours of weapons training.
Malchow said it was likely the shooter fired from within a vehicle at all four sites - a tactic that would cut down on the noise of the gunshot and provide for a quick means of escape.
The officer also described a device that can be attached to rifles to catch cartridges as they are being expelled from a rifle's ejection port - a suggestion by prosecutors as to why police were unable to find shell casings at the four crime scenes.
The shooter could have also avoided leaving shell casings by using a single-shot rifle, Malchow said.
In a discussion held outside the presence of the jury, the defense on Friday offered a preview of the case it will put on, telling the judge it intends to bring in witnesses who will testify about threats issued by at least two alternate suspects in the crimes.
One of the defense's suspects allegedly confessed to shooting Ciccolella and another told police he was in Ciccolella's office the day of the shooting.
Defense attorneys are expected to call witnesses beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday. It's not known how long the defense case will last or whether Nozolino will testify.