Mother of stabbed punter: He's doing the best he can

Updated: May 17, 2007, 7:15 PM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- Florence Mendoza squirmed in a fourth-row bench Thursday as lawyers discussed the case against the former Northern Colorado backup punter accused of trying to kill her son.

"I don't think anybody would like to sit and hear what went on the night that their son was hurt," Mendoza said after a motions hearing for Mitch Cozad, charged with attempted first-degree murder in a knife attack on her son Rafael, the starting punter.

"It's hard [being here]," she said.

Rafael Mendoza was attacked on Sept. 11 in a dimly lit parking lot outside his apartment in Evans, a small town adjacent to Greeley. He suffered a 3- to 5-inch-deep wound in his kicking leg.

Cozad, of Wheatland, Wyo., has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $500,000 bail. If found guilty of attempted murder, he could face up to 48 years in prison.

Police have said they believe Cozad stabbed Mendoza to try to get the starting job, and the case drew quick comparisons to the assault by Tonya Harding's hit man on Nancy Kerrigan.

Cozad's case is scheduled to go to trial July 30. A pretrial readiness conference was moved up to July 2, the last day the judge will accept a plea agreement.

Asked whether talks were under way about a plea deal, defense lawyer Joseph Gavaldon said only that "they're always ongoing." District attorney spokeswoman Jennifer Finch declined to comment.

Florence Mendoza said she doesn't know how she'd feel about a plea deal.

"I think that would be up to my son," she said.

Prosecutor Michele Meyer called four witnesses: two Evans police officers; a university police officer; and Nathan Cole, the university's coordinator for student rights and responsibilities.

Cole testified about bringing an eviction notice and a no-trespass letter to Cozad's dorm room on Sept. 12. Cozad, who was suspended from the university and kicked off the team, had an hour to vacate his dorm room.

While Cozad waited in Cole's office for his mother to pick him up, Evans police arrived, handcuffed Cozad and took him away, Cole said.

After nearly two hours of testimony Thursday, Florence Mendoza walked outside and leaned against a concrete wall in the bright sun.

She said her son still can't put the attack behind him.

"Too soon," she said. "I think he's doing the best he can to handle it."

Rafael Mendoza returned to the team just two weeks after the attack and averaged 39.9 yards on 56 punts last season. He hopes to punt for the Bears again next fall, his mother said.

"You've got to try out, same as every year," she said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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