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Gazette Premium Content Nozolino had "beyond normal obsession" with guns, former sheriff testifies

By LANCE BENZEL The Gazette - Updated: February 19, 2014 at 5:18 am

A former El Paso County sheriff testified Tuesday that he ended a friendship with then-co-worker Bruce J. Nozolino because of his "beyond normal obsession with firearms" and apparent focus on the calibers and tactics optimal for killing people.

"His interest wasn't in shooting big game or targets," John W. Anderson told jurors in summarizing what he called "chilling" conversations with Nozolino, 52, when the men worked together at defense contractor Lockheed Martin in Colorado Springs.

Among the questions Anderson said Nozolino casually brought him in the workplace: What rounds create the "biggest, most violent wound?" and "If someone was wearing a vest, where would you shoot to kill a person?"

The former two-term sheriff drew a damaging portrait as prosecutors came nearer to concluding their largely circumstantial case against Nozolino, who is accused of taking revenge after a bitter divorce - killing his ex-wife's lover in 2008, partially blinding her defense attorney in 2002 and trying to kill the attorney, a judge and members of their families.

After six weeks of testimony, prosecutors intend to rest on Thursday, and the defense is expected to begin putting on its case by Friday.

Anderson, who served as sheriff from 1995 to 2003, announced last week he will run for a third term as El Paso County sheriff.

The law enforcement veteran acknowledged he developed a "friendship" with Nozolino after Nozolino came to work for Lockheed Martin in 2005 and was assigned a cubicle within 100 feet of Anderson's office. The men talked guns, traded details about their respective divorces and, within months, Nozolino had agreed to help Anderson complete his unfinished garage, free of charge - asking only for a home-cooked meal from Anderson's wife as payment.

But in time it grew clear that Nozolino nursed an unusual interest in guns, even in an environment filled with former military personnel, Anderson said.

"It was a constant subject, to the point it became more and more uncomfortable," he said.

In conversations that revolved around "lethality," Nozolino talked fondly of a rifle he owned with interchangeable barrels that allowed the gun to shoot different calibers of rounds, Anderson said.

"If there was a signature round for Nozolino, it was absolutely the .223," Anderson said, referring to the caliber prosecutors suspect was used in at least some of the shootings.

Anderson said there was no single conversation that turned him suspicious of Nozolino. Instead, it was the "totality" of Nozolino's inquiries during "multiple discussions over a period of time."

"As the envelope would be pushed further and further, the more uncomfortable I became," he said.

Defense attorneys for Nozolino were quick to point out that Anderson didn't report his concerns to law enforcement or discourage Nozolino's interest in helping him during his unsuccessful 2006 bid for a seat in Congress.

Anderson testified that he received a $2,000 donation from Nozolino for his campaign - what he called an "extraordinary" gesture.

Asked by defense attorney Jesse Glassman if he returned the money given his concerns, Anderson replied there "probably wasn't much of it left."

"To be honest, it never crossed my mind to return his money," Anderson said. "It was spent on spaghetti dinners or yard signs or something."

According to earlier testimony, Nozolino's campaign contribution to Anderson was actually drawn from a checking account belonging to Nozolino's ex-girlfriend, who said she had no knowledge and no memory of the donation.

Anderson said Nozolino, a software engineer, had a Top Secret government clearance at a time when Lockheed Martin did work for what Anderson called "three-letter agencies," including the CIA and NSA as examples.

Glassman began to ask Anderson about work by Nozolino on "missile defense" at Schriever Air Force Base when he was cut short by the judge, who ruled the topic irrelevant.

Anderson said Nozolino lost his security clearance and his job in 2008. By then, there was a "growing awareness at Lockheed Martin of a beyond normal obsession with firearms," Anderson said. He said his relationship with Nozolino began to deteriorate when Nozolino tried to "coerce" him to testify on his behalf at a security clearance hearing.

Anderson said in retrospect, he believes that Nozolino resorted to "manipulative" behavior in an effort to "ingratiate" himself with the former sheriff and other employees.

He said he trusted Nozolino in part knowing that he would have undergone intense scrutiny to receive his government security clearance.

"I think I had a level of trust with my co-workers that you wouldn't have in other environments," he said.

Testimony is expected to continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, with court adjourning at noon.

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