Ex-backup punter testifies he was bullied by cops, called names

Updated: July 3, 2007, 6:03 PM ET
Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. -- A former Northern Colorado punter accused of stabbing the starter testified Tuesday that he felt bullied while being interrogated by detectives and that he implied he wanted a lawyer, only to be ignored.

Mitchell Cozad, who is charged with attempted first-degree murder, swiveled in his chair on the witness stand as he answered questions from his attorney, Joseph Gavaldon.

When asked why he spoke to investigators without an attorney, Cozad testified: "I had nothing to hide."

Still, Gavaldon sought to suppress statements Cozad made to investigators. The judge will issue a written ruling by Monday.

Cozad is accused of leaving a three- to five-inch-deep gash in Rafael Mendoza's kicking leg during a Sept. 11 ambush. Police have said they believe Cozad stabbed Mendoza in an attempt to get the starting job. Cozad 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.

The case is set to go to trial July 30, but Gavaldon said lawyers were negotiating to resolve the case before trial. Chief deputy district attorney Michele Meyer declined to comment on any possible plea deal.

Cozad's testimony Tuesday took about 35 minutes. As he spoke, Florence Mendoza, the mother of Rafael Mendoza, sat on a bench in the courtroom with her arms folded, intently listening to the testimony.

Last Sept. 12, Cozad was interviewed by Evans police detective George Roosevelt in the office of Nathan Cole, the university's coordinator for student rights and responsibilities. Cozad, who had been suspended from the school and kicked off the team, waited there for his mom to arrive from Wheatland, Wyo., because Cole had evicted him from his dorm room.

She called him on her way down and told him to take a taxi to a motel. Cozad testified Tuesday that Cole, after talking to the detectives on the scene, told Cozad that he could not leave because of the seriousness of the situation.

Prosecutors argued Cozad didn't ask for a lawyer while in the Cole's office with detectives, but Gavaldon contended it was implied. Cozad testified that he said, "My mom wanted me to wait [to talk] until we have a lawyer" as he waited for her.

"I think it's clear: He wants a lawyer, and they're ignoring it," Gavaldon said. "From the time he was escorted to Mr. Cole's office to saying 'I'm done,' eight times he requested a lawyer. It doesn't have to be the magic words, 'I want a lawyer.'"

Even so, Cozad's mother testified she asked for just that.

After arriving around 3:40 p.m., Suzanne Cozad testified she then spoke with Roosevelt.

"I asked for an attorney for my son," she said. "He said an attorney wasn't necessary. We could resolve this."

She was then allowed to speak with her son for about five minutes, she said.

"What we negotiated was I would go in and visit with Mitchell and find out if he had any knowledge of the incident," she said. "If he didn't have any involvement, he would go home with me [that night]. I kept my word to find out the truth. He didn't have any knowledge of this. I told that to [Roosevelt], and he said that wasn't going to work."

Mitch Cozad said he was later given two options: Waive his rights and answer two questions from the detectives and go home, or ask for an attorney. But if the attorney didn't arrive in five minutes, he would go to jail.

Cozad said he reluctantly waived his rights.

"Both of us felt like we had no option," he said.

Around 5:22 p.m. that day, Cozad said he was interviewed by police and that the tape recorder they used was shut off three times.

"The first time, he said, 'You little [expletive]. You better start telling me the truth, or you're going to jail for a very long time,'" Cozad said.

Cozad said the next two times the recorder was paused he or his mother, who was also in the office, were berated.

Cozad finally said, "I'm done," at which point he was taken into custody.

After Cozad was handcuffed and taken to the police station, he inquired about dinner because he hadn't eaten since around 11:30 a.m. A pizza was ordered.

"He [Roosevelt] gives me the smallest slice. He licks his thumb, puts it into the pizza and says, 'If you're hungry, you'll eat that,'" Cozad said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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