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Nozolino guilty on all counts, sentenced to life without chance of parole

March 7, 2014 Updated: March 9, 2014 at 9:57 am
photo - Bruce Nozolino
Bruce Nozolino 

With a placid expression reflecting little outward emotion, Bruce J. Nozolino on Friday was convicted of all 31 counts against him, including first-degree murder, in a decade-spanning series of sniper attacks that jurors linked to a bitter divorce.

Presiding Judge Victor I. Reyes proceeded directly to sentencing, handing down a life sentence without parole plus 288 years.

"He'll never see the light of day," said 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, whose office prosecuted the case after 13 years of investigation by Colorado Springs police.

Nozolino, 52, accepted his penalty in silence, declining an opportunity to respond to a string of victims who tearfully told the judge before sentencing that the former Lockheed Martin software engineer had destroyed lives, stolen childhoods and wrought fear and misery in his wake - all over a bruised ego.

Emotions burned bright among those who lived in terror of Nozolino, who seemed to bask in the allegations against him and often protested his innocence with a grin.

"All's I have to say is, where's his smirk now?" 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez told the court during victim-impact statements, casting a quick look toward Nozolino as the besieged defendant sat expressionless between his attorneys at the defense table.

The judge, his wife and his daughter were among those endangered by sniper shootings in the aftermath of Nozolino's 2000 divorce from his ex-wife Beverly, over which Martinez presided.

The jury convicted Nozolino of killing his ex-wife's former lover in 2008, partially blinding her former divorce lawyer in 2002, and shooting into the homes of the attorney and Martinez while their family members were inside.

Martinez, whose home was shot into in October 2001, testified during the trial that he felt a bullet whiz past his face while sitting on a couch in his living room watching TV. Moments earlier, he had been in his kitchen, talking to his daughter. A bullet flew into that room, too.

The six-man, six-woman jury reached its verdicts shortly before 10 a.m. Friday, capping three full days of deliberations after an eight-week trial.

The jury's sweeping convictions marked a sound rejection of Nozolino's defense, which argued that he had been unfairly targeted by police and prosecutors because of finger-pointing by divorce lawyer and two-time shooting victim John Ciccolella, who represented Beverly Nozolino in the divorce.

Ciccolella, who lost an eye during a Jan. 23, 2002, shooting into his downtown Colorado Springs law office, dismissed what prosecutors described as Nozolino's "conspiracy theories."

"When the law and the facts are against you, try the victims," he said. "That's exactly what (the defense) did during closing arguments - for me and Mrs. Schreiner," he said, referring to Sandra Wenzloff, the former wife of slaying victim Richard Schreiner, a man authorities say was shot to death by Nozolino nine years after a brief affair with the defendant's then wife.

Before sentencing, two of Ciccolella's sons told how their lives were transformed after Nozolino's first attack - a shot fired into the family's Palmer Lake home while Ciccolella's wife, Tammy, sat in her dining room reading a cookbook.

After the shootings, the family lived with their blinds closed and practiced drills in which they hid together in cast-iron bath tubs.

As the children got older, they learned to shoot and trained together on what to do if a gunman stormed their home.

"For 12 years I've had to be prepared for war," said Tyler Ciccolella, whose voice quavered with emotion as he addressed the court. "This is not the life that I would want."

While the trial was ongoing, middle brother Christopher Ciccolella said he slept with a loaded Springfield XD semiautomatic pistol under a spare pillow.

Now that Nozolino is headed for a lifetime in prison, he said, "I'd like to be able to keep it completely unloaded and locked in a box."

Ciccolella's oldest son, Chad, was working in his father's office the night Ciccolella was shot. Family members testified that Chad Ciccolella used his Boy Scout training to render aid, knowing he, too, could be shot at any moment.

The slaying victim's mother, Barbara Schreiner, lived a few blocks from the Stetson Hills home where her son was slain.

She recalled the "uplift" she used to get from her son's hugs, and how she could depend on him to come on snowy mornings to shovel her driveway.

The day he was killed, prosecutors say Richard Schreiner was working his way toward his mother's house, shovel in hand.

The case against Nozolino was largely circumstantial, without the forensic evidence often considered a "smoking gun" in murder prosecutions, such as DNA, fingerprints, eyewitness accounts or forensic firearms matches.

Instead, prosecutors called roughly 145 witnesses in painting a portrait of Nozolino as an aggrieved ex-husband obsessed with players in his divorce, threatening judges and clerks, taunting police and laughing with friends over victims' reactions.

During a brief interview outside the courthouse, a male juror shook his head when asked about the circumstantial nature of the case.

"The law says you consider circumstantial as much as direct" evidence, said the juror, who declined to give his name.

"We had a very good process, we made sure we covered every relevant point," he said of deliberations. "We took our time, obviously. We didn't get in there and make a snap decision. We argued quite a bit."

Others on the panel headed for their cars, declining comment.

"We did the best that we could," a female juror said to two others.

"It's time to go home," went another woman's response.

The case was argued by prosecutors Donna Billek and Deborah Pearson, who declined to be interviewed after the trial.

"This isn't about me," Billek said. "It's about the victims, and they've been through a long haul."

Nozolino's court-appointed attorneys, Tina Tussay of Castle Rock and Jesse Glassman of Denver, also declined to comment.

Nozolino's defense portrayed him as the victim of a biased police investigation that treated him as guilty from day one. They said in court that Nozolino's defense was hampered by Reyes' rulings barring them from introducing a variety of alternate suspects.

The judge made the ruling after determining that the defense had failed to meet the legal threshold to present those suspects to the jury.

Reyes' decision is almost certain to be grounds for Nozolino's appeal - the next battleground in the saga. Appeals are automatic after first-degree murder convictions.

Nozolino's girlfriend, veterinarian and activist Gretchen Kasameyer, was among a handful of Nozolino supporters who arrived in time to hear the verdict read.

She left quickly afterward. In an interview before the verdict was announced, Kasameyer attacked Nozolino's court proceedings as "appalling" and said none of the evidence presented shook her faith in Nozolino's innocence.

"We are a nation of men, not laws, and the court system is a mockery of our Constitution," she said, adding her contention that the prosecution relied on "lies" and coincidences to cement its case.

In handing down Nozolino's sentence, Reyes - a short-tempered judge prone to red-faced outbursts on the stand - sounded weary and doleful.

"As a human being I feel very sad for you," he told Nozolino, calling him a "smart, talented man" who "threw it all away" for a grudge.

"And for what? A desire to win. A desire not to be beaten. And money. Stupid money."

Telling Nozolino he had "an absolute right" to address the court, the judge drew the only public statement of the day from Nozolino, who sat impassively in a blue suit, burgundy tie and headphones worn for a hearing impairment.

"I have no comments at this time, your honor," Nozolino replied.

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