An El Paso County jury on Wednesday returned a split verdict in the case of a murder suspect accused of lying about his assets to win free representation by the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office.
Bruce Nozolino, 50, was convicted of one count of perjury and acquitted of a second after a two-day trial.
The former Lockheed Martin software engineer — who was found guilty of witness tampering at a jury trial last week and is awaiting a murder trial — bowed his head and briefly closed his eyes as the guilty verdict was read.
A judge revoked Nozolino’s $10 million bond on the 31-count murder indictment, and Nozolino faces up to six years in prison at sentencing scheduled for Sept. 24. The judge also will impose up to six years on each of four witness tampering counts, which alleged he tried to discourage friends and relatives from taking the stand against him.
The perjury case alleged that Nozolino understated his assets on two applications for court-appointed attorneys — representing on the earlier of the two that he had $10,000 worth of stocks, bonds and mutual funds when prosecutors say the amount was closer to $240,000.
The jury acquitted on the second count after two public defenders testified that Nozolino had followed their instructions and wasn’t trying to game the system, two jurors told The Gazette after leaving the courtroom.
Remaining members of the seven-woman, five-man panel declined to comment.
The mixed outcome could have implications for when Nozolino will be tried for murder and who will represent him.
In May, Pueblo District Judge Victor I. Reyes dismissed public defenders Rose Roy and Kim Chalmers from representing Nozolino after ruling they had a conflict of interest because their supervisor, Carrie Thompson, would be called by prosecutors as a witness against him in the perjury case.
It’s unclear if Reyes’ ruling will stand in light of the acquittal on that count, said attorney Joshua Tolini, who represented Nozolino on the perjury charge.
“Since it’s a not-guilty, I don’t necessarily know that there’s a conflict any longer — but that will be up to the other attorneys and the judge,” he said.
The Colorado Supreme Court is weighing an appeal asking to reinstate the Public Defender’s Office. Reyes was appointed to the case to prevent the appearance of bias because Nozolino is accused of reprisals against an attorney and a judge who were involved in his bitter divorce proceedings.
The murder trial is set for Sept. 17 but is almost certain to be postponed, say attorneys involved.
Timing of the trial likely will be addressed at a hearing called for 1 p.m. Monday.
If the Public Defender’s Office is reappointed, Nozolino likely will make it to trial sooner because Roy and Chalmers are well-versed in his case, Tolini said.
Attorneys Mark Walta and Tina Tussay-Cooper, who were appointed by Reyes to represent Nozolino, probably would need months to peruse thousands of pages of discovery — the result of an exhaustive investigation involving wire taps, GPS beacons on Nozolino’s vehicles and a secret grand jury investigation that brought SWAT officers to the courthouse roof whenever jurors met to probe allegations against him.
The grand jury ultimately indicted Nozolino in four shootings: the 2001 shooting of divorce attorney John Ciccolella, who was left blind in one eye; the 2008 slaying of Richard Schreiner, Nozolino’s ex-wife’s former lover; and shootings into the home of Ciccolella and 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez.
The perjury case led to fireworks in court Wednesday as Tolini told jurors that prosecutors were essentially accusing Thompson of lying on the stand to protect Nozolino.
Tolini said that under the prosecution’s theory, hundreds who seek representation by the Public Defender’s Office could be vulnerable to prosecution for perjury because of its application process.
The Public Defender’s Office has a policy to offer free representation to anyone unable to post bond on felony charges — and deputy public defenders routinely tell clients not to fill out financial information if they qualify, according to testimony in court.
Lead prosecutor Jeff Lindsey said the Nozolino case involved “unique circumstances” and that he didn’t see a potential risk for other clients.
Thompson, a 25-year veteran public defender who has supervised the Colorado Springs office for the past six years, said she was taken aback by what she perceived as an implication by prosecutors that she didn’t tell the truth on the stand.
“The courtroom is to me a very sacred place,” she said. “I took the oath very seriously and I always will.”
Thompson testified that prosecutors had accused Nozolino of perjury based on an incomplete application she supplied to prosecutors after meeting with Nozolino at the El Paso County jail.
Thompson said she intended the document to be used as reference by then-prosecutor Diana May. She testified she never meant for the document to be filed with the court and wasn’t sure how it happened.
“I spent a matter of a few minutes with him,” Thompson said. “How could I begin to do a full application with him?”
Prosecutors countered in court that the document appeared to be signed and dated by Thompson and had a note on top that read: “To Div. 14,” the courtroom where the case was being heard at that time.
Thompson defended the Public Defender’s Office’s application process and said it was her “mistake” that resulted in charges against Nozolino.
“We learn from our mistakes,” she said.